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NBA, players union near agreement on vaccines but will that matter in New York?

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

According to both ESPN, the NBA and the NBPA, the players union, are close to an agreement that the league’s players will not have to be vaccinated to play (and presumably practice) this season.

ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Adrian Wojnarowski reported the deal is nearly done.

NBA players will not be mandated to get vaccinated against COVID-19, league sources tell ESPN.

The NBA and NBPA continue to negotiate aspects of COVID-related protocols and procedures for the upcoming 2021-22 campaign, but the NBPA has refused to budge on its demand that players not be required to take the vaccine, sources say, and any proposal that mandates vaccination remains a “non-starter.”

The NBA said recently that 85 percent of its players — a pool of roughly 500 players on either standard deals or two-ways — are vaccinated. That means that 75 players are not, not an insignificant number.

All good?

Not quite. On Monday, Mayor Bill deBlasio’s rules on indoor venues went into effect. According to the rules, ALL employees and fans have to prove they’ve had at least one COVID vaccine or they will not be permitted inside. (Those who’ve only received one of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will be allowed inside Barclays Center but must wear a mask.)

That means not just staff, but the players as well. On September 1, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that indeed, the NBA had agreed that it would follow local regulations on vaccinations and that unvaccinated players in New York as well as San Francisco, which has its own rules, will not be permitted to suit up for home games.

The rule also applies to practice facilities and “other team activities,” Shams reported.

Specifically, the NBA sent the Nets, Knicks and Warriors a memo on September 1 laying out the policy and instructing the three teams to distribute it to those players who are not vaccinated. The memo also noted that those players who cannot suit up for home games are at risk of losing compensation and/or being fined.

Pursuant to the local orders set forth above, if a player is on an impacted team, unvaccinated, and does not have an approved bona fide medical or religious exemption (the determination of which will be made by the league office), he will not be allowed to enter their home arenas or practice facilities in these jurisdictions or participate in any games, practices, or other team activities conducted there. The failure by any player to provide services called for under his Player Contract as a result of his inability to comply with local law may subject him to a reduction of his Compensation by the NBA or his team, and may also subject him to a fine, suspension, and/or other appropriate action.

A Nets spokesman declined to comment on the policy at that point. HIPAA regulations do not permit teams to disclose their players’ individual health status —- without their permission. That would include which players are vaccinated and which are not.

So what do we know about the Nets players’ vaccination status? Not much. The team did do a PSA for the Mayor’s Office urging everyone to get vaccinated. Steve Nash, Sean Marks and two players — Bruce Brown and Blake Griffin — were part of the PSA.

And corporately, BSE Global has run vaccination clinics, but all those good works won’t matter. Under the Mayor’s order which the NBA agreed to, if a player is unvaccinated, he can’t practice or play inside New York City limits.

If there are unvaccinated Nets players, the effect will be muted early on. The team will spend the first week of training camp starting September 28 in San Diego, then play the Lakers in a preseason game in Los Angeles on October 3.

But the Nets will hold their Media Day at Barclays Center on September 27. No doubt players will be asked their vaccination status. Moreover, Media Day may also qualify as a “team activity” under the Mayor’s order.

In the absence of any self-disclosure, fans will no doubt engage in guessing games. We assume Griffin and Brown are vaccinated since they appeared in that PSA. Also in recent days we saw Griffin and Joe Harris at the US Open where everyone was required to be vaccinated.

Then, on Wednesday, Kyrie Irving offered this cryptic tweet...

Later, Irving clarified things. His tweet was “nothing COVID rule related.”

So that part of the guessing game is over, but this bit of internet sleuthing is quite interesting...

Is it possible that the NBA could somehow get exemptions for any players on the Nets who are not vaccinated? Sure but it wouldn’t be a good luck for the league, teams or the players.