The NBA Finals are closing in on a winner, with game six taking place tomorrow featuring a 3-2 Milwaukee Bucks lead over the Phoenix Suns. The Bucks are one victory away from an NBA Championship, but one of their players and some of their staff had to enter the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol ahead of Saturday’s game five matchup.
The Bucks didn’t seem to have an issue rebounding from the news, as they came away with a 123-119 win over the Suns despite the circumstances, but there is still cause for concern in the NBA.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s brother, entered Health and Safety Protocols on Saturday. Thanasis is not a starting player and therefore this will not affect the team in terms of his absence. However, it is troubling to see COVID-19 affecting players in a major sporting event ahead of the Olympics, especially after the news that the USA Men’s Basketball team is having issues with the virus as well.
Thanasis is not the only one infected with the virus for the Bucks. Assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer was not able to participate in game five due to COVID safety protocols as well. Oppenheimer is also Giannis’ workout coach for game days during warmups, so this was probably a shift in routine the Bucks star had to adjust to.
A referee, Sean Wright, was also taken out ahead of game five for COVID concerns. James Williams replaced him on the court.
These cases appearing in the midst of the NBA Finals is a stark reminder that COVID-19 is still prevalent and has not disappeared. Action must be taken within the league to ensure that these cases stay contained.
This was inevitable
The COVID-19 vaccine is important, especially when it comes to those who are traveling and work in close contact with others. With only 80% of the players and staff vaccinated in the Bucks organization, it was bound to happen at some point, especially with cases once again on the rise in those who are unvaccinated.
The league does have strict protocols in place which involve daily testing, but surveillance and containment is not the same as protection as was proven in this case. Players and staff are constantly coming in contact with one another on and off the court; if one person gets it, anyone who is still vulnerable to the disease will as well.
This seems to be a wake-up call within the world of NBA that the finals are not a COVID-free sanctuary. This has led to heightened precautions being taken, highlighted by Suns coach Monty Williams donning a mask during pre-game interviews.
The Rest of the Finals
The silver lining in this unfortunate situation is that the NBA Finals are nearing a close. For NBA fans, this might not be a positive component as the off-season is on the horizon, but for the league this will be a good time to recoup and get everyone healthy.
There are only one or two games left in the series, with July 22 being the last possible day for a game. This means by the end of the week there will be an NBA Champion named and no more risk of the virus spreading amongst the NBA Finals staff and players.
The Bucks don’t seem to be deflated from the COVID concerns and are remaining focused on their game. They head into game six with all of their key players including Giannis, Khris Middelton and Jrue Holiday in good health and one win away from being crowned NBA Champions for the first time since 1971. The Suns on the other hand will need to win two straight games to claim the title. In spite of the problems the finals are facing, there is still basketball to be played and a champion waiting to be named.