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Was Staples Center ‘Ground Zero’ for coronavirus spread among pro athletes?

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an odd fact, but fact it is: Half of all NBA and NHL coronavirus cases are linked to Staples Center. As the Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend, six NBA players and two NHL players who tested positive for the disease played at Staples Center in the days before the two leagues shut down ... four of them Nets.

The evidence isn’t scientific, at least not yet, as the Times’ Nathan Fenno writes...

Identifying the source and site of the infection is impossible, but the Lakers’ schedule during that final week put them within four degrees of separation of every NBA team. The crossover between leagues — 11 arenas are home to both NBA and NHL teams — the densely loaded schedules, the proximity to closely packed stands, combined with an easily spread virus, created a new label for athletes: super spreaders.

The arena went out of its way in the last several days to keep things clean, as the Times reported...

Staples Center ... installed 120 hand-sanitizing stations throughout the arena, including locker rooms, on March 1. Enhanced cleaning procedures followed. Eighty-five additional staffers were brought in for postgame cleaning. Areas that visitors or staff touch were cleaned regularly: ATMs, doorknobs, elevator buttons, escalator rails, food service areas, point-of-sale terminals, restrooms. Even telephones in the luxury suites. The arena purchased disinfectant products and new equipment to minimize the spread of germs in its five locker rooms, 48 restrooms and slew of other private and public areas...

Staples Center added attendants in each restroom to continually disinfect surfaces.

But one room may hold the key ... the NHL visitors locker room which was used by the Lakers for post- and pre-game press conferences on May 10, the night of the Nets . A day later, the Ottawa Senators used it for their game with the Kings. The scene inside the locker room was crowded. Players and the media were kept six feet away from each other.

For pregame and postgame Lakers news conferences, dozens of reporters (including Nets beat writers) crammed into the locker room used by visiting hockey teams ... Black curtains covered the lockers. About 30 chairs in the room for media members were so close together that they touched. Some journalists stood next to walls. But Lakers coach Frank Vogel and players maintained a six-foot distance from media members.

Still, while the arena took precautions and the NBA issued its edicts, not everyone expressed concern about what was an approaching storm, Fenno reports.

Danny Green was asked if he had changed anything to deal with the virus.

“Some guys have, some guys haven’t,” he said the night of the Nets game. “It doesn’t really matter to me. I haven’t. I still sign autographs. I still fist bump, shake hands, say ‘what’s up.’ Extra sanitizer, but that’s not a focus right now. Just continue to focus on playing basketball. Just have to adjust to whatever comes.”

During the game, Anthony Davis appeared to lick his hand,.and high-five teammates LeBron James and Avery Bradley as if to belittle the virus. Teammates jokingly dubbed them “The Corona Boys.” (The Lakers have not identified the two players on their team who tested positive.)

“I kind of like mimicked it and it was like this whole thing,” Davis said. “I’m cleaner than that.”

L.A. reporters embraced DeAndre Jordan, a former Clipper now with the Nets, and Jared Dudley of the Lakers on the court before the game.

In a smaller, a walk-in closet-sized room, Jacque Vaughn told reporters he wasn’t worried about the virus.

There are other parts of the Nets night that don’t conform to the locker room theory. The Senators and Nets didn’t use the same spaces at Staples Center and took different routes to the arena floor. There wasn’t any “cross-pollination” between the Senators and Nets at Staples Center, according to the arena president.

And none of the reporters have tested positive, although it’s uncertain if any of them were even tested. The Nets did not include their beat reporters in their tests.

Still, as Fenno writes...

The virus could have been transmitted just as easily in a team bus or charter flight or another arena or a thousand other places. The people involved will have to ponder the question in the same place as most everyone else. Home.