Basketball is back, but at what cost?

Shannon Morgan

On January 12, 2021, the United States had 229,712 new COVID-19 cases and set the record for the most COVID-19 deaths in a single day with 4,406 deaths.[1] On this same day, the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) announced its new COVID-19 protocols in light of a rise in NBA related cases.[2] The new protocols restricted players to their homes, unless attending “team-related activities at the team facility or arena, exercise, or perform[ing] essential activities, or as a result of extraordinary circumstances,” mandated that pre-game meetings last no more than 10 minutes, limited player interactions to “elbow or fist bumps,” and more.[3] Prior to the new protocols, the NBA’s original COVID-19 rules left the Philadelphia 76ers with only seven healthy players for one of their games,[4] and now the league is considering adding more players to team rosters because the new protocols have led to numerous absences and postponements.[5] The new protocols exemplify how the NBA continues what seems to be an uphill battle against COVID-19. However, at a time when COVID-19 continues to spread wildly in the U.S. and the NBA’s solution is to add protocols and players, which increase risks, why is basketball still being played and at what cost?

The two most obvious reasons why the NBA is still moving forward with their season are money and entertainment. Surely after quarantine players were itching to get back on the court and fans were desperate to have sports again. However, after a season where the NBA saw Finals viewership decline by 51%[6] and revenue drop 10%,[7] the money incentive is high and 2021 presents an opportunity for the league to recoup their losses. But, are money and entertainment good enough reasons to risk the lives of players, staff, and their respective families? Although the NBA maintains that on-court transmission is low because, in line with CDC guidelines, players on average do not spend more than 15 minutes within six feet of one another,[8] this claim is misleading. Aside from the fact that the CDC guidelines are simply an average, Dr. Amesh Adalja stated athletic activity causes faster breathing which means it is “more likely for more viral droplets to emanate during high intensity exercise, especially in indoor environments where people are less than six feet apart.”[9]

While I, and many others, are happy that basketball is back, I firmly do not believe it is worth risking one’s life over. If the NBA and their teams are that motivated by the money incentive, they could consider following the route of their own team, the Houston Rockets, and Major League Baseball (“MLB”). Both MLB and the Rockets filed claims to recoup revenue lost because of the pandemic, however both claims were denied by their respective insurance companies. Consequently, MLB and the Rockets sued their insurers for breach of contract.[10] While it is unclear how courts will rule on these insurance claims, these lawsuits present an alternative way leagues and teams can recoup their COVID-19 induced monetary losses. As COVID-19 continues to rampage the country, the NBA should think long and hard about the role they want to play going forward in this pandemic.


[1]Coronavirus (COVID-19), Google News,

[2]From January 6, 2021 to January 13, 2021, 16 new NBA players tested positive for COVID-19.

[3]Mike D. Sykes, II, The details on the NBA’s new COVID-19 protocols, For The W!N (January 12, 2021),  

[4]Tim Bontemps and Adrian Wojnarowski, Short-handed amid protocols, Philadelphia 76ers fall to Denver Nuggets with only seven healthy players on Doc Rivers’ roster, ESPN (January 9, 2021),

[5]Michael Kaskey-Blomain, NBA discussing increasing roster size amid COVID-19 pandemic by adding a third two-way contract, per report, CBS Sports (January 15, 2021),,according%20to%20ESPN's%20Adrian%20Wojnarowski. 

[6]Christopher Palmeri, NBA Ratings Decline Points to Broader Trouble in TV Watching, Bloomberg (October 13, 2020),  

[7]Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, NBA revenue for 2019-20 season dropped 10%% to $8.3 billion, sources say, ESPN (October 28, 2020), 

[8]Tim Cato and Jared Weiss, Do NBA’s COVID-19 protocols overlook on-court transmission possibility?, The Athletic (January 11, 2021),


[10]Michael McCann, MLB Sues For Billions As Pandemic Lawsuits Parse The Meaning Of ‘Or’, Sportico (December 7, 2020),; David Barron, Rockets sue insurance carrier over arena’s lost events amid pandemic, Houston Chronicle (July 20, 2020),