NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday the league would not "jump the line" for the Covid-19 vaccine as the league prepared to tip off its new season amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the United States.
Speaking on a conference call ahead of the start of the 2020-2021 season on Tuesday, Silver emphasised that the NBA would "wait our turn" to obtain the vaccine, which began to be administered for the first time last week.
"It goes without saying that in no form or way will we jump the line," Silver told reporters. "We will wait our turn to get the vaccine."
Silver said he hoped NBA players and staff would eventually play a role in helping to assure the public of the benefits of getting the vaccine.
"It's my hope that when we are eligible, members of the NBA community will want to get vaccinated and it's our plan to be involved with governmental efforts in terms of public messaging as to the benefit of taking the vaccine," he said.
The NBA was shut down for four months last season as the pandemic swept across North America before resuming in July with teams based in a protective quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
However the new season will take place with teams playing in their home markets, a move that represents myriad logistical challenges for the NBA and its 30 teams amid skyrocketing Covid-19 cases in many states.
Season bubble 'untenable'
Silver said playing an entire season in a bubble-like campus environment was deemed to be "untenable" but insisted he was confident of health and safety protocols put in place to mitigate the risk from the virus.
"I've been asked many times 'Why are you starting your season now, given the state of the pandemic?'" Silver said.
"It's a fair question and the short answer is that we're comfortable with the health and safety protocols we've designed in consultation with the players association and our medical experts.
"We would not be opening our season if we did not believe it was safe and responsible to do so."
Silver added however that the league was preparing for disruption, referring to a sense of "trepidation" about Tuesday's tip-off.
NBA chiefs have only released a schedule of games for the first half of the abbreviated 72-game season, and will finalise the second half of the calender at a later date.
"We do anticipate there will be bumps in the road along the way," Silver said. "We're waiting to see how this plays out before issuing the second half of the season. We know it's possible we may have to reschedule games along the way."
Silver said only six teams would start the season with fans in attendance at their arenas and described the return of spectators as a "huge priority."
"But at the same time I recognise that until we have mass distribution of the vaccine it's unlikely that we're going to return to the point of having full arenas," he cautioned, adding that the league estimated a 40% dip in total revenues if no fans at all were present during the season.
Silver meanwhile said that after the social justice initiatives adopted last season following the death of George Floyd in May, when "Black Lives Matter" adorned every court following the restart and players kneeled for the national anthem, he hoped players would return to standing for the anthem.
"It's a national ritual of sorts that I hope, personally, isn't something that's lost," Silver said.
"Because there are very few things that bring us together these days. So it's my expectation that going into the season we're going to return to the practice that's been part of this league for many decades, and that is standing for the national anthem."
NBA rules require players to stand for the pre-game anthem ritual.
Silver emphasised however that the league would not punish players who chose to protest the anthem by taking a knee.
"It's a complicated issue," he said. "Certainly, I'm not focusing in any way right now on discipline. I recognise this is a very emotional issue on both sides. I think it calls for engagement rather than simply rule enforcement."