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For several weeks now, the coronavirus that appeared in the city of Wuhan in China has been spreading across the planet. In the NBA, some franchises are recruiting players who have spent the season in China for the playoffs. This leads to the inescapable question: what are the consequences for the league?
The relationship between the NBA and China is not simple, and has been for several months. We remember the huge bad buzz generated last September by the tweet from Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, when he showed his support in Hong Kong, which was opposed to China in a geo-political conflict of great importance. And six months later, another issue links the two countries.
The CBA and the American league are once again forced to be linked. For several days now, the coronavirus has been dominating the international news. Visibly appearing in the city of Wuhan, China, this virus has already caused 2592 deaths as of February 24, according to the Chinese health authorities. More worryingly, new outbreaks are emerging all over the world (Iran, Italy...) because its virality is extremely high.
And naturally, the NBA is concerned. If the United States seems for the moment to be spared the spread of the disease, the American league could be confronted more quickly than expected with health concerns. For The Athletic, Sam Amick and David Aldridge dwelt on the subject, and it is rather intriguing.
Indeed, as you know, some former NBA players are playing in the CBA, the Chinese basketball championship, this year. Lance Stephenson, Jeremy Lin and Mareese Speights are just a few examples. These expatriates often join NBA franchises for the playoffs in April, since the CBA season usually ends in early March. That's next week.
Read also | "He shoots like he has the coronavirus": the statement that doesn't go down well
According to the two journalists, the league is concerned about the potential future return of the players to American soil for health reasons:
Although NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last week at the All-Star Weekend press conference in Chicago that the league is still considering the possibility of playing games in China next season, the eligibility of players playing in the CBA this year is of greater concern to the NBA and its franchises, which often sign players after the CBA season ends in late February or early March.
The fear is therefore legitimate given the magnitude of the virus. But a source from The Athletic provides additional information: there should be no concern as long as the players involved are in teams or cities outside the quarantine zone, the largest of which has been deployed in the city of Wuhan since February 23.
However, while they should be free to move freely, NBA players exiled to China will not necessarily be contractually exiled. And the reason is simple: the CBA season has been suspended since February 1. Initial reports from The Athletic indicate that hostilities will resume at the end of March. This means that a return to the NBA in the next few days will be complicated because the players will officially still be under contract with Chinese clubs. A dilemma is therefore posed for them: to wait and stay in China to get the money from their contracts, or to return to the NBA at all costs for the postseason.
In the end, there is a lack of clarity within the NBA, with decision-makers not really sure what is really happening in China. A league executive testifies, anonymously:
It would be on a case-by-case basis. It's hard to really know unless they are asked to come back. It's such a complicated situation with this virus, with the travel restrictions.... No one is even sure if what they say about the quarantine is really the reality of what's going on there. I've heard so many different numbers about how many people are infected and so on...
Faced with the spread of a virus as important as the one that is currently shaking the planet, the NBA is unfortunately quite helpless. But Adam Silver will have to manage with caution the potential return of the players currently in China because the context goes far beyond basketball.
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