Joe Ingles was pretty clear about how he felt when it came to the health and safety of his family when the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season back in March.
“If you had to tell me that you could never play again to protect Jacob from this, I would walk away, fly to Australia and never play another game in my life and be very content with it,” Ingles on The Athletic’s “Tampering” podcast. “I could walk out of this gym now, in the clothes I’m in and go to the airport. I would have zero issues because I wouldn’t want to put my family through that. I don’t want to put Jacob through that. I don’t want to put his sister through that, and I definitely don’t want to put his mother through that.”
On top of having a 4-year-old son who faces immune deficiency challenges due to autism, Ingles and his wife Renae have a 2-week-old baby at home now so even the smallest amount of risk can be terrifying.
Luckily, the NBA created the isolated bubble in Orlando in which guidelines and protocols assuaged fears. The fact that the monthslong experiment ended with zero players testing positive proved the league’s efforts a success.
But there is no bubble now. No guarantees, no isolation.
An extra variable to throw into the situation is that the Utah Jazz are one of just three NBA teams that are planning on having a limited number of fans in arenas when the 2020-21 season begins on Dec. 22.
That’s not to say that the Jazz players are going to be at risk of contracting COVID-19 from the fans in attendance, and it’s certainly not to say that the Jazz aren’t adhering to every measure that comes down from the health department and other governing bodies. I whole-heartedly believe that the Jazz are taking every precaution available to them and that they would protect the players at all costs.
But, like I said, there are no guarantees here.
When asked on Thursday what he thought of allowing fans back into the building, Ingles said, “If they can promise that everyone’s going be healthy and safe, then it’ll be great to have some fans.”
No one can promise that though, and that’s a concern that Ingles, the rest of the team, anyone working at the arena and the fans will have to face.
“I would hope everyone is doing their best to be as safe as possible,” he said via Zoom on Thursday. “Probably even more in Utah where it’s a bit harder with the numbers.”
The Jazz along with the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies are the only teams so far with plans to play games in front of fans. The Oklahoma City Thunder had originally announced that they would add their name to that list, but reversed order on Monday due to rising COVID-19 cases in the region, including more than 100 deaths and a positive test rate upward of 16% over the last week.
While Utah has experienced fewer deaths over the last seven days than Oklahoma, the number of cases is higher and the positive test rate has been as high as 26%.
For the NBA players, it just adds another variable to the myriad obstacles they’ll be facing this season as they try to stay clear of the virus. The league itself sent a memo to teams that more or less told them to prepare for the inevitability of players testing positive.
Ingles noted the number of people they’ll come into contact with as they travel for road games and stay in hotels, and he has tried to lead the charge in telling his teammates to be diligent and smart with every decision they make.
The NBA’s most recent guidelines laid out a return-to-play plan for any player that returns a positive COVID-19 test, which includes at least 10 days of isolation followed by two days of individual work before rejoining the team.
“With the schedule, you’re missing six-to-eight games, maybe five-to-eight games,” Ingles said. “Depending on who that is on your team, or if it hits your team with two or three players, that can can impact your month of the schedule pretty, pretty badly.”
Georges Niang, who also spoke with local reporter via Zoom on Thursday, tried to look at things with as much positivity as possible, saying that he believes all the players are focused on staying safe and steering clear of any compromising situations.
“I think all of our guys are taking that pretty seriously,” Niang said, “I know Joe has given us all a pep talk on really locking in and really following the rules, because that’s important to him. And if it’s important to him, it’s important all of us. ... I think if we all do our part, we can avoid catching it, and if we could go through the whole year with nobody catching the coronavirus that’d be a blessing.”
The Jazz will play their two preseason home games without fans in the arena and have detailed different restrictions and precautions to be followed for those attending regular season games on their website.