In an interview Thursday on the Dawg Talk Podcast, two-time NBA champion and newly minted MLS owner Kevin Durant expressed doubts he would feel comfortable returning to the court as part of the NBA’s plan to restart the season with 22 teams in Florida late next month amid a recent spike of COVID-19 cases there.
Although the Brooklyn Nets star was speaking as an athlete — who is out anyway recovering from a ruptured Achilles — Durant is also weeks removed from purchasing a 5% stake in the Philadelphia Union, one of 26 teams returning to the field in the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, starting July 8. The NBA’s competition begins July 30 at the same complex.
And with nearly each day over the past two-plus weeks bringing a substantial increase in known COVID-19 cases in the region, his remarks also highlight how NBA players have more say over their participation than their MLS counterparts. Florida announced a record-high of nearly 9,000 positive cases from Thursday, with more than 1,000 of those in Orlando and the surrounding areas of Orange County.
“I feel, me right now, I probably wouldn’t have played because the unknown going into that situation looks crazy right now, seeing so many new cases,” Durant said. “It’s just so unpredictable. It’s easy for me to say right now because I’m injured, but I probably wouldn’t have went down.”
Durant’s Brooklyn teammates and the rest of the league have been afforded the opportunity to abstain from their event for any reason, with the only consequence losing a minor fraction of their salary. Some are doing so for personal or family health reasons. Others, like the Washington Wizards’ Davis Bertans, are abstaining to avoid risking injury ahead of free agency in a competition his team is highly unlikely to win. And Durant said he would have weighed the wishes of his locker room.
“Obviously, I would have talked to my teammates and consulted with my guys and actually really went over it for the last month and a half,” he said. “But me, my gut would have me ‘nah,’ I wouldn’t want to go down there, especially after three months off.”
The standard for MLS players is a good deal higher. They must either have a compelling family reason, such as Carlos Vela, who is questionable because his wife is expecting their second child, or a pre-existing condition that might make them more at-risk to bad outcomes from COVID-19 infection. That includes Seattle’s Jordan Morris and Vancouver’s Andy Rose, who both have Type 1 diabetes. Earlier last month, it appeared both players were willing to play, though that was before the dramatic rise of cases in the region.
On the other hand, the maximum six-week stay MLS players are looking at is a good deal shorter than the nearly three months basketball players could endure if they reach the NBA Finals.
As a member of MLS ownership, Durant’s words also undercut the idea that the strict medical protocols both leagues will be enforcing should make MLS players feel at ease. Both leagues will be executing repeated virus testing and requiring players remain on resort grounds for the duration of their respective competitions, though employees at the facilities will not be quarantined.
For what it’s worth, it’s likely the inherent risks of transmitting the virus during a basketball game are likely higher than during a soccer match, given athletes are in closer contact for a larger portion of the competition, and the sport is played indoors. Even so, that’s only part of an equation. If the virus is introduced to other spaces where the MLS players eat, sleep or recreate, that could easily pose a higher risk.