The NBA makes the right move
Doing the right thing in the face of COVID-19, thanks to a man named Donnie Strack
BY HENRY ABBOTT
Even though virtually every expert in communicable diseases recommends it, the federal government hasn’t mandated social distancing—which would surely include canceling sporting events. So that decision was passed down to cities and leagues. The city of San Francisco took action, but the NBA’s board of governors hadn’t, as of Wednesday evening. So that decision was passed down again—to a man named Donnie Strack.
Strack grew up in Indianapolis, a ballboy for the Pacers. He bonded easily with players—so easily that Reggie Miller slipped into the back row of Strack’s high-school games, and, according to Indianapolis Monthly, Shaquille O’Neal challenged him to free-throw shooting contests.
By Wednesday night, though, years had passed. Strack had aged and advanced to the point that he is now the Thunder’s vice president of human and player performance. And, according to ESPN’s Royce Young, Strack sprinted onto the court, just as the referees were about to toss the ball in the air to start the game. So many others had deferred. Strack would be the one to protect the players.
Shortly after the game, we’d learn what Strack presumably knew then: A Jazz player had tested positive for COVID-19. Multiple reports declared that player to be Jazz center Rudy Gobert. The players were sent to their locker rooms, some pausing only for some hand sanitizer. Before long the scoreboard had news: The game would be postponed.
At 9:33 p.m. ET the NBA emailed that, after tonight’s games, the season would be suspended. As I write this, sources say players at the game in Oklahoma City are being tested.
They should build a statue of Donnie Strack. In a scary moment of history, when nobody knows how many people in any stadium might have COVID-19, Strack made the bold intervention. Who knows how many infections he prevented on the court and in the stands.
Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at Sinai Health and University Health Network and University of Toronto is a Raptors fan, but the prospect of attending a game at the moment makes him shudder, professionally and personally. He paints a scenario where it would only take a small number of unknowingly infected fans to spread the virus to hundreds more as they share handrails, sit at close quarters and use the same ketchup dispensers. If even a fraction of them end up gravely ill the ripple effects could be calamitous: “Now you need an entire hospital’s full ICU [Intensive Care Unit] to take care of these patients,” he said. “Repeat for several games each night, night after night. Have I scared you? Good. That’s what’s happening.”
Even with only one confirmed case, it’s easy to see the benefits of suspending play. In the most conservative possible accounting, (that doesn’t even assess coaches, trainers, staff, fans, and journalists whose microphones Gobert intentionally touched mocking COVID-19 fears), Gobert has shared the court with 80 players and officials just in the last ten days. The list below is only of the players who checked into games Gobert played.
Without Dr. Strack, this list would be a lot longer. (All information from Basketball-Reference).
Kevin Porter Jr.
Larry Nance Jr.
Officials: Mitchell Ervin, Eric Lewis, Derek Richardson
Kevin Knox II
Officials: Jenna Schroeder, Aaron Smith, Sean Wright
Robert Williams III
Officials: Marat Kogut, Ken Mauer, Gediminas Petraitis
Officials: Brandon Adair, John Goble, Michael Smith
Officials: Brent Barnaky, Courtney Kirkland, Rodney Mott
Thank you for reading TrueHoop! A few days ago we explored how the NBA makes these kinds of decisions.