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    ‘New Year, New Me’ Actually Might Work for the Chicago Bulls

    The Bulls reinvented themselves and have risen to the top of the N.B.A.’s Eastern Conference, despite a virus outbreak and injuries that have tested them.About a month before training camp last fall, the Chicago Bulls began meeting up in their city, which would become a new home for most of them.They got together for workouts they didn’t have to do. They played five-on-five. They hung out. With only three players who had been with the team during the previous off-season, there were a lot of introductions to make.“Everybody that came here was very excited for this project to work,” said Nikola Vucevic, one of the longer-tenured members of the Bulls, having joined the team at the trade deadline in March 2021. “There was a very positive energy going into it. I think that helped a lot. Also, we had guys that were still trying to prove themselves.”Those workouts built team chemistry, and the Bulls surprised people — Vucevic included — with how quickly they started winning. And when injuries and coronavirus infections depleted their roster, they had a foundation that allowed them to adapt.This season has demanded that teams be pliable, given how the pandemic has disrupted it. A virus outbreak during a wave of the Omicron variant in December meant that the Bulls were missing 10 players at one point — and once they emerged from that setback, they began losing key players to injury. Despite all that, the Bulls (37-21) are well positioned for the run up to the playoffs after All-Star Weekend.“We’re not able to see us at our full potential since the beginning of the year,” said Zach LaVine, Chicago’s two-time All-Star guard and the longest-tenured Bull. “Even then we were working out the kinks, getting to know each other.”He added: “We’re still at the top of our conference and we’ve been doing a patch job.”Zach LaVine has been with the Bulls since the 2017-18 season.Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThe Miami Heat, who have dealt with their own virus and injury issues, are tied with the Bulls for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. It has been more than a decade since the Bulls were truly considered contenders in the East. They have missed the playoffs for the past four seasons, and two years ago they tried to shake up their front office in hopes of changing their fortunes.They traded for Vucevic last season, and he became the first part of their remodel. Only the third-year guard Coby White and LaVine remain from the team that began last season.DeMar DeRozan became their marquee free-agent signing, a player who had been written off because of his preference for midrange jumpers over 3-pointers.The Bulls traded for Lonzo Ball in the off-season, and paid a small price — the forfeiture of a second-round draft pick — for tampering to get him. They signed Alex Caruso, who comes off the bench for a defensive jolt, in free agency as well. And they drafted Ayo Dosunmu, a Chicago native who had spent three years at the University of Illinois.Critics wondered if this group would actually work, and how.Bulls Coach Billy Donovan said the players’ time together before training camp “really helped our team.” For Vucevic that meant reconnecting with DeRozan, with whom he’d played at the University of Southern California. It meant getting to know others he’d played against in the N.B.A.“It’s one of the great things about team sports,” Vucevic said. “You meet so many people and you never know who you’re going to build friendships with.”Lonzo Ball playing against Philadelphia in November. He is currently recovering from a knee injury.Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Bulls started the season 6-1 and went on a nine-game winning streak in late December and early January after their Omicron wave had passed.Ball’s outlet passes, LaVine’s dunks and DeRozan’s buzzer-beaters were just part of the fun. Their up-tempo offense, fueled by DeRozan, LaVine and, eventually, Vucevic, was balanced by a clear defensive identity, led by guards Ball and Caruso.“They look like they’re having fun playing basketball together,” said Joakim Noah, who played for the Bulls from 2007 to 2016, including seven straight trips to the playoffs. “When you look around the league you realize you can probably count that on one hand.”Friendships might seem like a small thing on a professional sports team, but discord can derail even the most talented teams.“I think when you have a lot of guys built into the foundation as if we’re one household, one family, when you have guys going in and out it’s much easier to plug guys in,” Dosunmu said.DeRozan was out for almost two weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus in December. LaVine has missed 11 games, most of them because of a lingering knee injury, though he also played with back spasms earlier this month. Ball has been out since Jan. 15 with a knee injury.Caruso missed 13 games in December and January with a foot injury. In the second game after he returned, he fractured his wrist after a hard foul by Milwaukee’s Grayson Allen. Caruso has not played since, but he has been on the bench, helping younger players learn from what he sees.“We have a strong-minded group,” Vucevic said. “A group of fighters. When we’re going through it, we just talked about how we can’t feel sorry for ourselves because nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.”They have stayed afloat by beating lesser teams, but the league’s better ones have proved a tougher challenge. So far they are winless against Miami, Milwaukee, Golden State, Philadelphia, Memphis and Phoenix. They have only two wins against teams currently in the top four in their conferences — they beat the Jazz and Cavaliers once each.“We understand that we are a good team, we are not yet at the level of the best teams, and we still have a lot of work to do,” Vucevic said, adding, “We have to wait to get full to be able to do that, but all of this is a good test for us to get to there.”After shootaround Friday at Chicago’s practice facility, Ball hopped through a drill as he worked on rehabbing his knee. Nearby, Caruso watched a scrimmage. LaVine practiced shooting free throws and then spoke to reporters.“We get healthy and we do what we’re supposed to do, I don’t see anybody better than us in the East,” LaVine said. “That’s my opinion. Competition-wise, you step on the line you go throw the ball up, I don’t think anybody’s better than us.”That night LaVine played 37 minutes and winced as he landed on his feet after a dunk. The Bulls announced Monday that he would be out until the All-Star break because of that lingering knee injury.DeMar DeRozan defending against San Antonio’s Doug McDermott in February.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated PressSince returning from his coronavirus-related absence, DeRozan has offered some consistency. He’s scored at least 35 points in the team’s last six games — losses to Phoenix and Philadelphia, followed by four wins over pesky but less-accomplished teams.After Saturday’s home win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, DeRozan spoke wistfully about what it might feel like when the Bulls are all healthy again.“It’s like a dream I dream about every night,” DeRozan said as he looked into the distance.Outside the United Center, the winter Chicago air was biting cold just a few hours before the city would be dusted with snow.“Being on a sunny beautiful island, that’s how I picture it when we get back healthy,” DeRozan said. “We’re going to get there. It sucks right now, but we got to weather it. It’s going to come.” More

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    What Is a Foul in Basketball? It’s Always Evolving

    The Evolution of the Foul
    The N.B.A. foul is never set in stone. As players reinvent the game, the officiating changes, too.

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    When Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, he proposed 13 rules, which he published in 1892. Naismith stipulated in one rule that “no shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed.” These actions would be known as fouls.More than a century and multiple iterations of the game later, that definition has largely stayed the same. But Naismith’s foul rule is ever evolving. What constitutes a “strike” or a “push?”Fouls are fouls. Except when they aren’t. Or they’re a certain type of foul. Unless they’re not. During the 1984 N.B.A. finals, Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics clothes-lined Kurt Rambis of the Los Angeles Lakers, sending Rambis crashing to the floor. This was, at the time, considered a common foul. No flagrant. No ejection. No suspension.The N.B.A. rule book has preserved the basic idea of a foul over time, while adding interpretations and levels — flagrants became a thing in the 1990s — and shifting what referees have emphasized as basketball has changed.Flagrant FoulsIn Game 4 of the 1984 N.B.A. finals, Kurt Rambis took a pass on a fast break and tried to go up for a layup. He never got there. Boston’s Kevin McHale stiff armed him in the neck area, leaving Rambis flat on his back. The dangerous play prompted both teams’ benches to clear. It became emblematic of the kind of physical play that was allowed in that decade.“That foul was the impetus for a lot of rule changes,” Rambis, now a special adviser to the Lakers, said in an interview.Before the 1990-91 season, the N.B.A. upped the penalties for such fouls. If a player committed an especially hard foul, it could be called flagrant. The player would not necessarily be ejected, but the injured team would shoot two free throws and get the ball back.“Hopefully, we will have fewer of these ridiculous fouls, with players not even caring whether they hurt somebody or not,” Rod Thorn, then a top official with the league, said at the time. “It’s just getting too rough.”Rambis has called McHale a “cheap shot artist” and said that he “would probably be in jail right now if I had been able to do what I wanted to do after he upended me.” But since then, he appears to have softened, telling The New York Times that he had “no animosity” or “hatred” toward McHale.“I really don’t believe that Kevin meant to do that,” Rambis said. “The result of the foul wasn’t what he intended. I mean, we just gave players hard fouls to prevent them from laying the ball up. It just was an unfortunate circumstance.”The Shooter Has Landed (The Zaza Pachulia Rule)During Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard went up for a baseline jump shot with Golden State’s starting center, Zaza Pachulia, contesting. Pachulia was so close that Leonard landed on Pachulia’s foot, rolling his ankle for the second time that game. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich called the play “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike.”After this, the N.B.A. introduced what is colloquially known as “The Zaza Rule,” which said that if a defender doesn’t allow a shooter to land, referees would call a flagrant foul, rather than a common foul.Pachulia was called for a common foul, and Leonard made both free throws. But Leonard didn’t play again that series and Golden State swept the Spurs en route to winning a championship.Kawhi Leonard, on the floor, missed the final three games of the 2017 Western Conference finals after landing on another player’s foot.Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty ImagesIn the fall of 2020, Pachulia said on a podcast that Leonard’s injury “was a freak, bad accident unfortunately,” and that he “really felt bad.”“I’m an athlete too. My kids are playing,” Pachulia said. “I don’t want anyone to go through that.”Monty McCutchen, the senior vice president of referee training for the N.B.A., said the rule change had been in the works before that play and came in large part because players were taking more jump shots, particularly step backs. Even as players became adept at creating space for themselves, their natural shooting motion carried them forward — and they needed space to land.“That innovation of the game drove this idea that we were having people being injured,” McCutchen said. “They were landing on top of people’s feet and being out for two, three four weeks.”The N.B.A. Moves Away From Hand-CheckingScottie Pippen, left, was one of the best defenders in the N.B.A. in the 1990s. Defenders were allowed to use their hands much more than they can today.Noren Trotman/NBAE via Getty ImagesFor much of the 20th century, basketball favored the tallest players, who did most of their scoring in the paint. Defenders were allowed to hand-check — to use their hands to slow driving opponents. That put guards, who were typically the shortest players, at a disadvantage. But the 1990s Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the perimeter, changed the calculations for the N.B.A.By 1994, Jordan and Pippen had won three championships together, but Jordan had retired and the league was looking for of a new perimeter star to fill the void. The N.B.A. instructed officials to begin calling fouls for most types of hand-checking on the perimeter, which would make it easier for guards to score.“Offensively, it will be great,” Pippen said at the time. “But on the defensive end, it’s going to take some getting used to. It’s not that I necessarily do it a lot — it’s just something that if you’ve done it for so long, it will be hard to remember not to do it.”His teammate Steve Kerr added, “I don’t know how anyone is going to guard guys like Kevin Johnson or Tim Hardaway,” referring to Johnson of the Phoenix Suns and Hardaway of the Golden State Warriors, two of the league’s best guards.The N.B.A.’s enforcement of hand-checking fouls was inconsistent. Varying levels of defensive hand use were allowed until the 2004-5 season, when the league forbade almost all restrictive contact with the offensive player.“It had gotten so prevalent in the league that you could no longer function on ball,” McCutchen said.Scoring went from 93.4 points a game in the 2003-4 season to 97.2 in 2004-5, likely the result of the greater emphasis on hand-checking and other rule changes that were part of a continuing shift toward favoring offensive players. The stricter enforcement of hand-checking fouls opened the door for players like Golden State’s Stephen Curry to later become dominant from 3-point range and in driving to the basket.The less-physical style has had its critics, such as Metta Sandiford-Artest, who for almost two decades was one of the best and most physical defenders in the N.B.A.“If you were big and strong, they were trying to take away the fact that someone could show how bigger and stronger they are,” said Sandiford-Artest, who was known as Ron Artest and Metta World Peace during his career. “So they made all the rules go against the big and strong player and they catered to the smaller and quicker player. I felt like the rules were lopsided. Because now you can hit Shaq or LeBron, but they can’t hit you back.”Not that the rule affected him: “I’m an elite defender, so it couldn’t really change how I play,” he said.The Freedom to MoveBefore the 2018-19 season, the N.B.A. expanded upon the elimination of hand-checking to emphasize “freedom of movement,” even for players without the ball. Now all players were to be allowed to cut or move freely around the court, without being impeded by an opposing player, such as through arm wraps or bumps.“The clutching and the grabbing had gotten so strong that the game of basketball, which is a game of both strength and quickness, had turned into an unbalanced metric where strength was the thing that was winning the day,” McCutchen said.When players like Curry or other top shooters, say Joe Harris of the Nets, run around screens, opposing defenders cannot hip check, bump or clutch them to slow them down. It gives the advantage to quick players, like De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings, who are difficult to chase when they dart around the court without the ball.‘The Reggie Miller Rule’Reggie Miller, a Hall of Famer who is considered one of the best shooters in N.B.A. history, was skilled at making deep jumpers and drawing fouls on them with his infamous move: the leg kick. He became known for kicking his leg out on jumpers to make it seem as if a defender had made illegal contact with him. The move worked often enough that Miller would enrage opposing defenders and coaches.Chris Webber, a fellow Hall of Famer, called him “The Human Kickstand” in a 2018 radio interview. Miller, who retired in 2005, and Webber faced off against each other in the ’90s and early 2000s, and later worked alongside each other as basketball analysts for TNT.Reggie Miller was known for his sharpshooting — and for the leg kicks that sometimes followed.Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images“When he shoots the 3, all that leg stuff that he complains about when we do games, he might’ve helped invent all that,” Webber told Dan Patrick in the 2018 interview.For years, players copied Miller’s move and got the same results.“When you first start seeing something refereeing — and the league is always a little behind it — your eye is not prone to picking up that visual syntax,” McCutchen said. “And as such, the time frame that Reggie played is when we started to see players do that as a way of trying to fool referees.”In 2012, the N.B.A. said that referees would make a point to enforce an existing rule about offensive fouls that would apply to players who appeared to purposely kick out their legs.Unnatural MovementsIn recent years, N.B.A. stars like James Harden of the Nets and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks had become particularly adept at drawing fouls on defenders by leaning into them, jumping sideways into them, or hooking their arms. It was creative on their part, designed to trick referees into thinking a defender had initiated contact. Other players also began flailing throughout games, trying to game officials for calls. Critics from inside and outside the league said this style of play had increasingly made the N.B.A. unwatchable and unfair.In the summer, the N.B.A. announced that plays with “unnatural movements” would result in offensive fouls or no-calls. The impact was immediate, with noticeably fewer foul calls for Harden, especially, and others from the preseason on.James Harden struggled to get foul calls early this season with tactics that had worked for him for years.Ron Schwane/Getty ImagesJordan Clarkson, a guard for the Utah Jazz, said that the change allowed defenders “to play with their hands a little bit more.” Asked if he was using his hands more as a result, Clarkson said: “Hell yeah. All the time.”Golden State forward Draymond Green, who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2016-17 and is making a case for a repeat this season, said because of this latest shift, “our game is better.”“I enjoy watching N.B.A. games,” Green said after a recent practice. “I’m not looking at 144-148 in a regulation game. Those high numbers weren’t a product of great scorers, although we do have some great scorers in the league. Those high numbers were the product of a lot of people cashing 3s and a lot of people just knowing how to draw fouls.”He added, “I think we’re watching meaningful basketball now.”The Evolution of the Foul More

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    The N.B.A.’s Early Story Lines: Missing Stars, Big-Time Bulls, Jokic

    The Chicago Bulls have stood out for their surprising success on the court. But three stars have been in the spotlight without ever taking a shot.After two seasons that were dramatically disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the N.B.A. thought it was returning to some version of normal this year. Instead, a wave of infections in the past few weeks has had a major impact on rosters and schedules, prompting game postponements and sidelining key players.Before that, though, several key story lines had begun emerging on the court.Golden State and Phoenix have established themselves as the best teams in the Western Conference, while the Lakers, laden with former All-Stars, have struggled to find their way. And even though injuries have stymied the Nuggets as a team, their big man Nikola Jokic has been making a case to win the Most Valuable Player Award again.The Chicago Bulls have proved to be surprising contenders with a team of former castoffs who have played brilliantly together. In the East, only the Nets have a better record than the Bulls, despite playing without Kyrie Irving so far this season.While Irving’s absence has to do with his vaccination status, two other stars have been out for contract-related reasons — Houston’s John Wall and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons. How their situations resolve could have consequences for the way players and teams resolve conflict in the future.With Christmas Day — what some consider the unofficial start of the N.B.A. season — looming, here’s a look at three important story lines so far this season.Stars Go M.I.A.New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson has not played this season because of a foot injury.Jeff Chiu/Associated PressPhiladelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons has not played this season after asking to be traded and as he tends to his mental health.Matt Rourke/Associated PressEven before teams began cycling through replacement players to deal with Covid-related absences, some big names were missing this season.There is, of course, the soap opera in Philadelphia, where Ben Simmons requested — demanded? — a trade from the 76ers over the summer. A standoff ensued before Simmons, a three-time All-Star and the team’s starting point guard, made a couple of cameos at preseason practice. The 76ers subsequently suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team. Daryl Morey, the 76ers’ general manager, has said that he will trade Simmons only for a “difference maker,” and he has clearly been methodical in his approach to weighing offers.In Houston, the Rockets are undergoing a rebuild — and John Wall does not figure into their plans. Wall said in September that he and the Rockets agreed he would not play while the team sought a new team for him. But Wall is 31 with a surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon, and his onerous contract includes a player option worth more than $47 million next season. The search for a trade partner continues.Houston guard John Wall, right, has not played as the Rockets try to find a trade partner.Carmen Mandato/Getty ImagesAnd in New Orleans, the Pelicans are still awaiting Zion Williamson’s return to the court — a theme that has become all too familiar to fans. After undergoing off-season surgery to repair a fracture in his right foot, Williamson has experienced a series of setbacks. His scheduled return to practice this month was scuttled when he reported soreness in his foot. Medical imaging later revealed a “regression” in the healing process, which led the team to abandon any sort of targeted timeline. He remains indefinitely sidelined.When healthy, Williamson has been one of the league’s most dynamic young players. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, he was named to his first All-Star team last season. But he appeared in just 24 games as a rookie because of a torn meniscus in his right knee, and has now played in just 85 career games while missing more than 90. Without Williamson, a bruising forward who is 6-foot-6 and not particularly slim, the Pelicans have scuffled to one of the worst records in the league.Surprise Success: The Chicago BullsBulls guard Lonzo Ball is shooting better than ever in his first season with Chicago.Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Chicago Bulls’ resurgent season was interrupted last week when a coronavirus outbreak sent 10 of their players into the league’s health protocols and the N.B.A. postponed two of their games.They returned to play Sunday, still depleted, in a game against the Lakers, and got right back to winning.The Bulls have been led by DeMar DeRozan, whose emphasis on midrange jumpers has led him to be treated like a relic. DeRozan is averaging 26.8 points per game this season, ranking fifth in the league. He missed 10 days after entering the coronavirus protocols with what he told reporters in Chicago was an asymptomatic case.While he was out, the Bulls relied more on guard Lonzo Ball, who has made dazzling assists all season and is running the team’s offense beautifully. Chicago recently lost a second-round pick after the N.B.A. concluded that the Bulls had tampered in order to sign Ball in free agency over the summer. But that penalty might have been worth it: Ball is shooting better than ever, especially from 3-point range, where he has made more than 40 percent of his shots.Bulls guard Zach LaVine is averaging 26 points per game, second most on the team.Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports, via ReutersBulls guard Alex Caruso is making an impact on both ends of the floor, especially on defense.Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports, via ReutersZach LaVine, who starts at guard alongside Ball, has had nearly identical statistical production to DeRozan, including averaging 26 points per game. Meanwhile, center Nikola Vucevic is averaging double-digit rebounds.Off the bench, Alex Caruso has changed games with his defensive intensity, and is averaging two steals per game — second best in the league. Caruso’s defense is what earned him a shot in the N.B.A. to begin with.The success so far is a welcome change for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2017. The Bulls last made the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, led by Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.They won’t play with the marquee teams on Christmas, because few saw this start coming. But they’ll have plenty of chances to prove they belong among the best in the league.An Underrated M.V.P.?Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has often been left out of M.V.P. conversations this season.David Zalubowski/Associated PressNikola Jokic can’t jump particularly high or move all that fast. He’s rarely the most muscular player on the floor.But Jokic is having the best season in the N.B.A. While players like Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James are often cited as the top candidates to wear the best player crown in this era, Jokic is outproducing them all. He’s somehow playing even better than last season, when he won the Most Valuable Player Award.For context, explore his advanced numbers: Entering this week, Jokic was at .312 win shares per 48 minutes, a measure of how many wins can be attributed to a player. His was the best in the league, and on a pace to be the 10th best in N.B.A. history. Another number: Jokic’s player efficiency rating, a measure of contributions per minute, was 34.22 entering this week, the highest in the league. He is even been better on defense.When we watch Jokic play basketball, we aren’t just seeing one of the N.B.A.’s best in his prime. We’re watching one of the best players of the last 30 years. But he hasn’t been a part of much M.V.P. chatter this season. After Denver’s run to the Western Conference semifinals last season, the Nuggets have been mired around .500 for most of this season, in large part because two of their top players, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., have been injured.It’s too bad, because when Jokic is on the floor, the Nuggets are among the best teams in the N.B.A. statistically. When he’s not, they’re among the worst on both ends of the floor. It’s difficult to be more valuable than that. More

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    NBA Says It Will ‘Follow the Science’ as Coronavirus Cases Rise

    Outbreaks and exposures on multiple teams led the league this week to postpone games for the first time this season, with a series of marquee matchups looming.For the first couple of months of the N.B.A. season, the league operated with something that approximated business as usual: full arenas and full rosters as teams adapted to the new normal of playing through the coronavirus pandemic.But amid a recent surge of players and coaches who have landed in the N.B.A.’s Covid-19 health and safety protocols, the league finds itself contending with some familiar challenges and concerns.Positive tests. Canceled practices. And the looming possibility of more postponed games, just as the N.B.A. approaches what some fans consider its real opening day: a five-game slate on Christmas Day.On Tuesday, the Nets announced that six more players, including James Harden, had joined Paul Millsap in the protocols, meaning they had tested positive for the coronavirus or had been in close contact with someone who had. That left the Nets with a very short rotation for their home game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. The Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, canceled their practice after Talen Horton-Tucker entered the protocols ahead of the team’s flight to Dallas for a game against the Mavericks on Wednesday.Once in the protocols, players cannot return to play until they have isolated for 10 days or returned two negative test results at least 24 hours apart.Those developments came one day after the league announced that it was postponing a pair of Chicago Bulls games this week after 10 of the team’s players, as well as other staff members, landed in the protocols. Those two games — against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday and the Raptors on Thursday — were the league’s first postponements of the season.“Like the rest of the country, and as was predicted by our infectious disease specialists, we have seen an increase of cases around the league,” said Mike Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman. “As we have since the pandemic began in March 2020, we will continue to follow the science and data, and will, in close partnership with the players’ association, update our protocols as deemed appropriate by our medical experts.”All of the Bulls’ players have been vaccinated, according to two league sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the players’ vaccination statuses.The league has said that more than 97 percent of its players are fully vaccinated, and that more than 60 percent of those eligible have received booster shots. The players’ union did not agree to a vaccine mandate before the start of the season. A few players, such as the Nets’ Kyrie Irving and Washington’s Bradley Beal, have spoken out about not wanting to get vaccinated.Last season, the league and the players’ union reported more than 75 positive tests among players, most of them before vaccines were widely available. More than 30 games were postponed.Given the possibility that players might have been exposed to the virus during Thanksgiving gatherings this year, the league and union agreed to institute mandatory testing on Nov. 28, 29 and 30. Before then, vaccinated players were being tested only if they exhibited symptoms or had been around someone who had tested positive.CJ McCollum, the president of the players’ union, told The New York Times recently that he was encouraging players to get vaccines and booster shots, and that he doesn’t allow unvaccinated people into his home. Extra testing, he said, “just makes sense.”The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to KnowCard 1 of 5Pfizer’s Covid pill. More

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    Scottie Pippen Takes Aim at Michael Jordan in New Book

    In a new memoir, Pippen makes a sharp turn from decades of praising his former Chicago Bulls teammate to calling him selfish, hypocritical and insensitive.Scottie Pippen’s new memoir, “Unguarded,” is a master class in settling scores, or creating new ones.Beginning in the prologue, Pippen expresses anger at Michael Jordan over “The Last Dance,” the 2020 ESPN documentary on the 1990s Chicago Bulls, which Pippen writes “glorified Michael Jordan while not giving nearly enough praise to me and my proud teammates.” Pippen gets more caustic from there.“How dare Michael treat us that way after everything we did for him and his precious brand,” Pippen writes, adding, “To make things worse, Michael received $10 million for his role in the doc while my teammates and I didn’t earn a dime.” (Pippen and several Bulls players appeared on camera for the documentary. It has not been publicly disclosed how much Jordan, whose company Jump 23 was part of the project, made for the series.)In response to Jordan calling Pippen “selfish” in the documentary for delaying a foot surgery and asking to be traded, Pippen writes, “You want to know what selfish is? Selfish is retiring right before the start of training camp when it is too late for the organization to sign free agents,” a reference to Jordan’s unexpected first retirement after his father’s death. He calls Jordan hypocritical and insensitive. And he criticizes Jordan for his behavior toward co-workers: “Seeing again how poorly Michael treated his teammates, I cringed, as I did back then.”“Michael and I aren’t close and never have been,” Pippen writes.That’s just in the opening pages. In the rest of the book, Pippen takes shots at everyone from Charles Barkley (“wasn’t dedicated enough to win a championship”) to Isiah Thomas (“dirty” player, “with a knack for making the most inappropriate comments”).Pippen also tees off on the former Bulls Coach Phil Jackson about the famed moment in 1994 when Pippen refused to re-enter a playoff game for the last 1.8 seconds after Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc instead of for him. After telling Dan Patrick in a radio interview earlier this year that it was racist for Jackson to have done so, Pippen backs off that assertion in the book. Even so, Pippen writes that Jackson humiliated him and that “the moment of truth had come, and he had abandoned me.”As open as Pippen is in the book, he seemed far less willing to engage with the material in an interview. The conversation over a video conference became terse, and Pippen canceled a photo shoot afterward.This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.You come from very humble roots. You weren’t recruited by a huge school. You were underpaid compared with market value for a significant period of your career. Is there any point in your life when you didn’t feel overlooked? Because this book seems to stem from a lot of you wanting to write your own story and wanting to set the record straight.I think I can say there was no part in my life that I felt overlooked. That may be your take of what you took from reading the book, but I didn’t feel like I was overlooked. I just felt like it was a different journey than most people have traveled — who’s played on a professional level, who’s had to go to college.From the opening pages of the book, you take a cudgel to Michael Jordan. Have you always felt this way and just kept that inside or did those feelings really come into focus after watching “The Last Dance”?I think he’s always separated himself a little bit from what I consider the traditional team concept, in some sense. And I think “The Last Dance” just put the icing on the cake. So it was all about him at the end of the day.One of the most interesting lines is when you write, “We didn’t win six championships because he got on guys, we won in spite of his getting on guys.” And I thought that was really interesting, because Jordan’s treatment of teammates has long been heralded as a virtue. Did you find it to be unproductive?Well, I can’t say I found it to be unproductive, because it was productive.But you also said that you guys won in spite of it.Well, we won when he retired. We didn’t win a title, but obviously we didn’t have a full roster, so.Do you worry that your book will create a permanent split between you two?To answer your question, no.Have you given him any sort of heads up about what you’re saying about him?No.You write that Isiah Thomas reached out after the documentary aired and wanted to declare a truce with you. You said that you were unwilling to speak to him. Why is that?Well, I played in the league for 18 years and there was never a relationship there. I’ve been out of the league for 15 years, so why now? It’s not like we’re crossing each other’s paths anymore.You write that the book pushed you where you needed to be pushed, even to some places you didn’t want to go. What’s an example of a place that you really needed to push to talk about? What places didn’t you want to go?I don’t want to specifically point that out. I think you should read the book and figure it out. I’m not going to make your job easy by getting some controversy on that.Your interview with Dan Patrick in the spring made a lot of headlines. You said it was racist for Phil Jackson not to draw up the play for you in the famous 1.8 second game. You walked that back in the book. After you made those comments, did you hear from former teammates about it? What were you hearing from people and what made you walk that back in the book?What made me walk it back?Yeah.I didn’t walk it back. I just didn’t have it in the book. I said it was probably not right for me to say that about Phil being racist at this stage. It’s water under the bridge now. But at that point in time, based on where I was as a player, the year that I was having, I thought it was a bad move on his part.When was the last time you spoke to Phil Jackson?I can’t recall.Just to clarify, because I just want to make sure I don’t put words in your mouth. You don’t think that Phil was racist in designating Toni Kukoc to take that last shot?Did I say it? What are you asking?OK, in your book, and I’m quoting you here — —Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Have you heard me say that I said that?Well, yeah, I watched the interview.OK, so I said it. Now what are you asking me?In your book you write: “I was so hurt when he picked Toni over me that I needed to come up with an explanation for why I was rejected. For why, after everything I had given to the Chicago Bulls, I wasn’t allowed to have my moment. So I told myself at the time that Phil’s decision must have been racially motivated, and I allowed myself to believe that lie for nearly 30 years. Only when I saw my words in print did it dawn on me how wrong I was.” So you call it a lie. So I just want to clarify exactly what it is. Do you or do you not believe that Phil was being racist when he drew up that play?I feel like it was a moment where he did me wrong. How about that? How about I answer your question that way.OK, fair enough. What do you think is a big misconception about you? Is there something that people don’t know about you that you would like them to get to know about you?I’m private, so there’s not much you can learn about me. More

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    N.B.A. Eastern Conference Preview: The Bucks Aren't Finished Yet

    The Bucks might be better, while the Sixers and Nets are playing wait-and-see with key stars. The Eastern Conference could play out in several ways.Here lie the N.B.A.’s most compelling story lines.Potential contenders in the Eastern Conference scrambled during the off-season to assemble teams fit to knock off Giannis Antetokounmpo — now with a new, improved jump shot? — and the reigning N.B.A. champion Milwaukee Bucks. Even the conference’s perennial bottom feeders built rosters that will demand attention from basketball devotees. Some teams are just hoping that distractions don’t derail their seasons before they start.Many wonder how the Ben Simmons situation in Philadelphia will end. The 76ers seemed locked in a stalemate with Simmons, a three-time All-Star, who has wanted to be traded for months. Simmons ended his holdout midway through the preseason and reported to the team but has not played. The 76ers have said they want him on their roster, but if they persuade him to stay, can they really go forward with business as usual?Meanwhile, the Nets have a bona fide championship roster. They know this, and even with the distraction of Kyrie Irving’s murky status because he’s not vaccinated, they expect to hoist the Larry O’Brien championship trophy at season’s end.Could the N.B.A.’s balance of power, which has long rested in the West, be shifting to the East? Here’s a look at how the Eastern Conference shapes up this season.Miami HeatIn some ways, it seems so long ago. But little more than a year has passed since the Heat plowed their way to the 2020 finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Was it a fluke, aided by playing under the unusual conditions of a bubble environment, with no fans? The Heat were up and down last season before the Milwaukee Bucks ejected them from the 2021 playoffs in a lopsided first-round series.Jimmy Butler needs to be efficient. Duncan Robinson needs to be consistent. Tyler Herro needs to recapture his assertiveness. And Bam Adebayo needs to keep making the sort of strides that have pushed him toward becoming a perennial All-Star.The team should benefit from two additions: Kyle Lowry, who at 35 left the Raptors after nine seasons, and P.J. Tucker, who helped the Bucks win the championship last season.Philadelphia 76ersThe Sixers don’t need Ben Simmons to be competitive (they do have Joel Embiid, pictured), but they are better with him.Matt Slocum/Associated PressBen Simmons is, for now, back in the City of Brotherly Love.Simmons, who reportedly demanded a trade in late August and missed training camp, reported to the 76ers ahead of their third preseason game but did not play. Simmons’s future in Philadelphia remains unclear, though. He still has four years left on his maximum contract.With or without him, Philadelphia is antsy to win now. Joel Embiid is coming off the best season of his career, when he finished second in the voting for the Most Valuable Player Award. The 76ers were the No. 1 seed in last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs but collapsed in the semifinals, continuing their inability to turn regular-season wins into deep postseason success.Philadelphia is a better team with Simmons, 25, despite his offensive shortcomings. But even if he doesn’t play anytime soon, Embiid, Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris should be experienced enough to keep the Sixers in contention.New York KnicksThe Knicks doubled down on last season’s roster, which unexpectedly made the playoffs then flamed out — albeit after a brilliant flare — in the first round. The veterans Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson are back, but Elfrid Payton, who triggered an influx of gray hairs for fans, is not. The additions of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker are significant, and should help take the offensive load off RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, who signed a four-year contract extension in the off-season.This feels like a make-or-break year for the 23-year-old Mitchell Robinson, the center who is up for an extension and can jump through the roof. At his best, he protects the rim and is an excellent roll man. But he has had difficulty staying healthy. Look for bigger roles for Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin, who each showed promise off the bench as rookies last season.The Knicks should easily make the playoffs, but their bench depth is a question mark.Milwaukee BucksThe Bucks kept the band together. Same coach. Same star. Same core — mostly. And why not? Fresh off their first championship since 1971, the Bucks seem poised for a title defense.The challenge could be fatigue. Because of the pandemic, their postseason run stretched into July, and two starters — Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — helped the U.S. Olympic team win gold in August. The Bucks also lost P.J. Tucker, invaluable in the late stages of last season, to the Heat in free agency.But Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time M.V.P., is still the face of the franchise and the proud owner of a newly minted championship ring. And he may be better than ever, showing off an improved jump shot in the preseason. With a contract that runs through the 2025-26 season, he is not going anywhere anytime soon.Atlanta HawksAtlanta guard Trae Young led the Hawks on a surprising run through the first two rounds of the playoffs last season.Brett Davis/USA Today Sports, via ReutersAfter a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals last year, the Hawks enter the season with the burden of expectations and the benefit of continuity. This team is deep and should compete to be one of the best in the East.Most of the key players are back. The Hawks locked in their two best players, Trae Young and John Collins, with long-term extensions. Coach Nate McMillan will be running the team from opening night, as opposed to being thrust into the job midseason as he was during the last campaign after Lloyd Pierce was fired.Atlanta almost pulled off a miracle run to the N.B.A. finals last season, after taking down the Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers, but were bedeviled by injuries against the eventual champions, the Milwaukee Bucks. Players who were unavailable or not 100 percent, like De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bogdan Bogdanovic, are expected to start the season with clean bills of health. The Hawks also added some quality veteran bench pieces in Gorgui Dieng and Delon Wright, and an intriguing rookie they drafted late in this year’s first round, Jalen Johnson.Charlotte HornetsLaMelo Ball, last season’s rookie of the year, highlights Charlotte’s promising young core. He’ll likely be the Hornets’ primary facilitator and already has great court vision and playmaking ability, and he is continuing to improve his jump shot.Ball and forward Miles Bridges in the pick-and-roll were elite last season, with Bridges’s power at the basket and Ball’s precise lob placement on display. That pairing should only be better this season.The Hornets already had solid veterans in Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, and they added Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee. Oubre is an inconsistent shooter, but could be impactful in transition. Plumlee is a versatile big man.This group won’t be knocking at the door of the N.B.A. finals this season, but the Hornets will be a fun team to watch, and have a real chance at a playoff berth.Brooklyn NetsWith the addition of Patty Mills and Paul Millsap, as well as the return of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Nets, on paper, are one of the best teams in N.B.A. history. In normal circumstances, they would be title favorites, given their Big Three of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant. But that was the case last year too, and the Nets bowed out in the second round of the playoffs.Health will be the principle factor for determining how far the Nets go. All of the Nets’ top players have significant miles on their legs and have missed substantial time in recent years.If there is a potentially weak point for other teams to exploit, it is defensively, where the Nets struggled last season, and their off-season additions didn’t seriously address that. This could come back to bite them in the postseason, particularly in the frontcourt against players like Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored at will during last year’s playoffs, or Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.But the offensive firepower is top notch. It’s hard to see the Nets being beaten in a seven-game series if they’re healthy.Chicago BullsDeMar DeRozan gives the new-look Chicago Bulls a threat from the mid-range.Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports, via ReutersChicago could be a sneaky-good team this season.Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, voiced displeasure with the team’s 31-41 record shortly after last season. Since then, he’s added DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Tony Bradley to a roster with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, whom Chicago acquired from Orlando at the March trade deadline.DeRozan is lethal in the midrange, but some have questioned how he’ll fit with LaVine, as both players are most effective with the ball in their hands. Chicago will have an upgrade at point guard with Ball, who is a deft passer. And Caruso will add a rugged spark off the bench. Coach Billy Donovan will have to figure out how they all fit on the court.In any event, Michael Jordan said that with the changes the Bulls made, they could compete in the East. How long has it been since those words were last spoken?Toronto RaptorsIt’s a new era in Toronto basketball. Kyle Lowry, perhaps the most lauded Raptor in franchise history, has gone to Miami. Without him, the Raptors are likely stuck between being too talented to get a top draft pick and not being so good that they’ll contend for a top seed in the conference.But there may be an opening for Toronto in the turbulent East: Scottie Barnes, whom the team surprisingly drafted at No. 4 this year, showed potential in the preseason. And the Raptors’ frontcourt, helmed by Chris Boucher and the newly acquired Precious Achiuwa, will be a force.There are lots of questions for the Raptors entering the season: Is Pascal Siakam, who is expected to miss the start of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, a true franchise cornerstone? Will Lowry’s replacement at guard, the 35-year-old Goran Dragic, last the season in Toronto? Or will Masai Ujiri, the Raptors head of basketball operations, flip Dragic’s expiring contract?Detroit PistonsYou’d be hard pressed to find any Pistons fans who haven’t already crowned the rookie guard Cade Cunningham as their Magic Johnson. Johnson, of course, won an N.B.A. title as a rookie after the Lakers drafted him No. 1 overall in 1979.Detroit drafted Cunningham, a savvy scorer and shot creator, No. 1 overall earlier this year to hopefully lift itself out of years of irrelevancy. An ankle injury sidelined him in the preseason, and the team is being cautious.Detroit’s young group showed promise last season, despite finishing with the worst record in the East, but the Pistons are another team in rebuilding mode. Coach Dwane Casey has said that this season’s goal is to earn a spot in the postseason play-in tournament.Cleveland CavaliersOnly someone like LeBron James could render an entire franchise into an afterthought. But that was what he effectively did when he departed the Cavaliers for the glamour of Hollywood in 2018, leaving them to rummage through the wilderness without him. The Cavaliers instantly went from title contender to lightweight, though the team has some up-and-comers — highlighted by Collin Sexton and Darius Garland in the backcourt — who are cause for cautious optimism.None of this is to suggest that the Cavaliers will come anywhere close to sniffing the playoffs. But a slow, steady rebuild — augmented by smart draft picks — is the way back to respectability. And there is more good news: Kevin Love (remember him?) has just two seasons remaining on his gargantuan deal, which could make him a more appealing target on the trade market.Boston CelticsJayson Tatum has shown promise with Boston, but postseason success has so far eluded him.Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports, via ReutersFrom the start of training camp, Ime Udoka, the Celtics’ first-year coach, has had a particular emphasis: ball movement. He does not want the ball to stick. He wants his players to work together to generate the best shots.This must have been welcome news to fans who got tired of watching the Celtics’ offense devolve into isolation sets last season. Jayson Tatum, 23, and Jaylen Brown, who will turn 25 this month, form one of the most talented young tandems in the league, but fulfilling their promise in the postseason has so far eluded them.Perhaps Udoka can help them deliver. He replaced Brad Stevens, who moved to the front office after a posting .500 record and losing in the first round of the playoffs in his eighth season as the team’s coach.Washington WizardsWes Unseld Jr., Washington’s new head coach, has a tall task ahead of him.The Wizards are not a championship-caliber team, even after adding solid veterans like Spencer Dinwiddie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell. So this season will be mostly about persuading Bradley Beal, who can become a free agent next summer, to make a long-term commitment to the franchise.It’s hard to win without multiple elite playmakers, and the Wizards have just one in Beal after trading Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers. But even in a yet another bridge year, the Wizards should, at the very least, have a playoff team. They’ll have the promising center Thomas Bryant back from injury, and the team can hope for some growth from its last two lottery picks, Deni Avdija (2020) and Rui Hachimura (2019).Orlando MagicThe Magic have a young team with a first-year head coach in Jamahl Mosley. They’ve made just two playoff appearances in the past nine seasons, and traded away their best players, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, in the middle of last season. Then they landed Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs at No. 5 in this year’s draft.Suggs joined a roster that is crowded at guard, with Markelle Fultz, who will return from a knee injury, RJ Hampton, Terrence Ross, Cole Anthony and Gary Harris. Suggs probably has the highest ceiling of those players, though, and he was solid in the summer league before injuring his thumb.The Magic will not be legitimate contenders for a while, so they have plenty of time to sort out their roster.Indiana PacersRick Carlisle, back for his second stint with the Pacers, is the team’s third coach in three seasons. Indiana could use some stability to help develop a young core that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, already a two-time All-Star at 25.But the Pacers, who have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2014, are coming off a 34-38 season, and Caris LeVert is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his back.Carlisle coached the Pacers for four seasons, from 2003 to 2007, while guiding them to three postseason appearances. It will take some hard work to get them there again. More

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    What Does It Take to Be Like Mike? 1,264 Ticket Stubs

    He didn’t have to be there: Andrew Goldberg is trying to collect ticket stubs from each of Michael Jordan’s regular-season, playoff and All-Star Games.As the planet’s pre-eminent collector of a very specific type of basketball memorabilia, Andrew Goldberg scans the internet and works the phones. He has spent six years tending to a spreadsheet that details the items that are in his possession, and he has a network of industry sources who alert him whenever they come across something he may need. More

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    N.B.A. Postpones Two More Games Because of the Virus

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonThis Is for Stephen Curry’s CriticsAre the Knicks Back?A Year of Kobe and LeBronMarc Stein’s Fearless PredictionsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyN.B.A. Postpones Two More Games Because of the VirusThe N.B.A. has now postponed four games because of the virus, and said it would be meeting with its players’ union on Monday to discuss changes to health protocols.N.B.A. Commissioner Adam SilverCredit…Jae C. Hong/Associated PressJan. 11, 2021Updated 5:48 p.m. ETThe N.B.A. cited its coronavirus health protocols in postponing two games on Monday, bringing the total number of games postponed for this reason to four.The affected games were Monday night’s matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans, and Tuesday’s Boston Celtics game against the Chicago Bulls. The league also said that it would be meeting with the N.B.A. players’ union on Monday “about modifying the league’s health and safety protocols.”On Sunday, after the league postponed a game for the second time this season, an N.B.A. spokesman told The New York Times that there were “no plans to pause the season” and that the league had accounted for postponements when designing the schedule. Beyond the postponements, several teams have played short-handed when multiple or key players were out because of virus protocols.With three games postponed in less than 24 hours, the N.B.A. is seeing an early but notable challenge to its attempt to finish its 72-game schedule, and it’s happening before the season is a month old. Over the summer, the N.B.A. did not report that any players had tested positive after clearing quarantine to enter its bubble on the Walt Disney World campus in Florida. Since play began this season, with no bubble and cross-country travel, there had been six reported cases through Wednesday.That number should rise when the N.B.A. puts out its next weekly report. Philadelphia 76ers guard Seth Curry and Boston’s Jayson Tatum are reported to have tested positive in recent days. Subsequent contact tracing and injuries led to the Sixers using just seven players in a loss to the Nuggets on Saturday. The Celtics were scheduled to play the Miami Heat on Sunday, but the game was postponed after contact tracing left Miami without the minimum eight players required to compete.But Boston was in poor shape as well: The team said on Sunday that seven players would not be available for the game as a result of the protocols, including their two stars, Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Multiple outlets reported that Tatum had tested positive for the coronavirus after playing the Washington Wizards on Friday night.A league spokesman said the same issue — contact tracing — caused the latest postponements. Boston would not have had enough players to take the floor Tuesday, and Dallas, which is missing four players, was not cleared to resume team activities after closing its practice facility over the weekend.According to the league’s protocols, players who test positive must isolate for at least 10 days, or test negative in two consecutive tests at least 24 hours apart. If a player could have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus, the league or team may mandate a quarantine after a risk assessment.So far, five teams have been significantly affected by virus-related player absences: Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia. The Sixers said Monday that they would be without five players for that night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks as a result of coronavirus protocols. On Saturday, in addition to those players, the Sixers were without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, their two best players. The team said they were dealing with injuries unrelated to the virus. Sixers Coach Doc Rivers said before Saturday’s game that he didn’t think his team should have to play with so few players, citing injury concerns.The Heat said Monday evening that they would be without eight players, including their stars, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, for their Tuesday matchup against the Sixers.The league has said that, because of the wide community spread of the virus, it expected cases and potential exposures among players. Commissioner Adam Silver also has said that he did not want N.B.A. players to “jump the line” to be vaccinated, meaning that teams’ missing players because of protocols may be the norm for the rest of the season.Players and team staff members have agreed to a number of restrictions on their professional and private activities to help reduce infections, like not going to bars and clubs, or indoor social gatherings with 15 or more people. James Harden, the Houston Rockets star, was fined $50,000 by the league for attending an indoor party with more than 15 people on Dec. 21, the day before the season began.Instead, the league has recommended that players take up “cycling, hiking, boating, golfing, frequenting parks or beaches, or like activities.”But the latest wave of infections and contact tracing suggests more may need to be done. Before the season, Silver said at a news conference that the season could be paused if the league thought the protocols weren’t working, “meaning that not only did we have some cases of Covid but that we were witnessing spread either among teams or even possibly to another team, that would cause us to suspend the season.”He added: “I think we are prepared for isolated cases. In fact, based on what we’ve seen in the preseason, based on watching other leagues operating outside the bubble, unfortunately it seems somewhat inevitable.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More