Opinion: Oh good, the NBA is here to tell us how to handle COVID

by Peter Heck · Aug 6th, 2020 4:20 pm
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Last Updated Aug 7th, 2020 at 12:08 pm

Who knew it was all so simple?

Once again, blithering bloviator, NBA coach Gregg Popovich has showered humanity with the fruit of his dizzying intellect, explaining how easy dealing with all this COVID chaos could have been.

Has it confounded epidemiologists? Yes.

Has it confused public health experts? Absolutely.

Has it frustrated infectious disease specialists? No doubt.

Has it challenged virologists? Without question.

But navigating through the morass of conflicting data, organizing the finer points of spectacularly contradictory models – none of it is a match for the brain trust over there leading the NBA.

Sure, the league remains a tad bit confused as to whether it's a good or a bad thing that their communist Chinese benefactors are enslaving ethnic minorities, persecuting religious faithful, and exterminating dissidents. But let's be fair, there's so much nuance there. Hauling innocent people off to concentration camps packed like sardines in a railcar – that's just not cut and dry.

But figuring out how to properly balance people's lives and livelihoods while dealing with a novel virus amidst a sea of manipulated data, geographical disparities, the realities of federalism, and a sharply divided population? That's cake!

Just ask Pop. Talking to reporters about the good news that there were no positive COVID tests among active NBA players in the league's Orlando "bubble," the San Antonio Spurs coach and social justice activist unloaded:

"I think it's a great example for the country. No. 1, our leader had a vision, knew how to organize, did it efficiently. And the participants, unlike many of our citizens, have been very disciplined about reaching this goal and coming together for a common purpose. We can just look at our country and realize that from the top, we don't have that ability to organize for all the reasons we know. As a population, you worry about the fiber of our country to some degree because we just don't have the discipline. All we want is this instant gratification. We need to understand the long-term effects. It would have been a lot more wise to spend time worrying about how to open schools rather than how to open bars. So we opened the bars, etcetera, and now we're in this very difficult position with schools. Had we had leadership to have that vision in the first place, we might have acted differently earlier."

Brilliant analysis. The country should have just done what the NBA has done and everything would have been fine. So what precisely has the NBA done, you ask? They've put all players, coaches, and personnel in 5-star Disney deluxe accommodations – rooms that can run between $500-$800 a night. They've loaded the facility with gourmet chefs to cater directly to the handful of occupants allowed in the sprawling complex. Game rooms, fitness centers, pools, tiki bars, arcades, DJs, and workout facilities abound. And it's all free to those in the bubble. Well, actually that's not true – players, coaches, and personnel are paid to be there.

Who in their right mind would think any of that could translate even remotely to the general population? How detached from real life must a person be to think that any of it is even relatable, no less feasible?

Unlike NBA commissioner Adam Silver, political leaders from the president to governors to mayors aren't running private enterprises so flush with cash that they can put every resident at the Gran Destino Tower or Grand Floridian Resort and send private chefs to their door as they wait out the virus. Popovich's penchant for sipping $3,000 bottles of wine has perhaps dulled him to the realities of life for those outside his dominion of privilege.

The real world is a far different place than the one Popovich inhabits which, truth be told, is the primary reason so many people get frustrated with entertainment and sports stars spouting off about politics. It isn't that they aren't allowed to have an opinion; it's that they are so removed from real world problems they come off either patronizing or oblivious (like when NBA star Rajon Rondo compared his Disney hotel room to a Motel 6). Pop falls into the latter category.

The coach's defenders have suggested Popovich's point was that the NBA had strong, visionary leadership at the top that resulted in an effective management plan, whereas the country has nothing like that. That's perhaps an even more delusional observation.

Commissioner Silver isn't constrained by a constitution, nor is he competing with 50 different autonomous political entities that wield the vast majority of power over the behavior and conduct of their citizens. Besides, had Trump attempted anything like an Adam Silver-esque, unilateral, top-down, federally-imposed management plan, detractors like Popovich would have been the first in line behind the nearest microphone to (rightly) denounce the president's "authoritarian impulses."

I'm always amazed when people with platforms like Popovich lament our nation's lack of unity and inability to organize for a common purpose, all while working diligently to ensure that's the case.

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