This past weekend, LeBron James took sons Bronny and Bryce to the Lakers’ team facility to share something they often enjoy together — basketball.
It was Saturday, when James was supposed to be preparing for a game against the Denver Nuggets that was scheduled for Sunday amid the best season the Lakers have had in at least a decade. Bronny and his Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High teammates were supposed to play in a state championship basketball game that day.
But all of that changed because the NBA had to suspend the season last Wednesday after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, leading sports at every level to do the same. The next day, the league forbade teams from holding group practices or meetings and prohibited players from leaving their home markets until Monday. Leaders across the country asked citizens to distance themselves from each other to slow the spread of the worldwide pandemic.
The issue became more visibly connected to the Lakers on Tuesday when the Brooklyn Nets, whom the Lakers played March 10 at Staples Center, announced four of their players tested positive for the coronavirus, three without symptoms. Kevin Durant told the Athletic he was one of the three asymptomatic players. Seven NBA players have tested positive.
In response to the Nets’ news, the Lakers will give those players who remain in town the opportunity to be tested Wednesday and have asked all of their players to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to people familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.
The information was relayed to players during a conference call Tuesday, one of several the team has had with players since the league suspended operations. Lakers coach Frank Vogel and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka have had regular conference calls, typically one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
“Given the exposure risks from our game against the Nets on March 10th, we are following the next steps of our COVID-19 procedures and protocol that are established in consultation with various health officials, the NBA and our UCLA Health doctors,” the Lakers said in a statement.
The NBA’s Board of Governors has also been in constant communication, including a Tuesday afternoon conference call during which former surgeon general Vivek Murthy spoke to franchise leaders about the severity of the outbreak and the benefits of social distancing.
Starting this week, Lakers players were allowed to leave the Los Angeles area but asked to check in with team medical personnel every day. They also were told not to work out anywhere other than the Lakers’ team facility or in their homes for the time being.
Because of a shortage of tests in California, public health officials are refusing to test people who have no symptoms. Private health clinics are not under such restrictions, but they are encouraged to prioritize people who are ill. While there have been instances of NBA teams having access to testing for players who have not shown symptoms, a shortage of testing kits also has prevented members of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors from testing all of their players.
“It is frustrating, but it is the reality,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said during a conference call. “We’re in the same boat as everybody. It’s very difficult to find a test in California and many places, so if any of our players do come down sick or any of our employees, we’ll [do] our best to get a test, but there’s definitely frustration that we don’t all have access to them, but there’s nothing we can do about it. So we just have to follow the advice of the medical experts and our local officials and leaders and do our best.”
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement that public health authorities and team doctors have been concerned that players’ frequent travel and interactions with the public could “accelerate the spread of the virus.” Some teams are in areas where access to testing comes, in part, through their connection with health-care providers.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Jazz were all tested after Gobert’s positive test, with only Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell known to have tested positive. Mitchell did not have symptoms. The Nets and Toronto Raptors also tested their teams, with Toronto reporting no positive tests. One member of the Detroit Pistons, Christian Wood, tested positive for the virus after developing flu-like symptoms, which led to the rest of the organization practicing self-isolation.
“Hopefully, by these players choosing to make their test results public, they have drawn attention to the critical need for young people to follow CDC recommendations in order to protect others, particularly those with underlying health conditions and the elderly,” Bass said in a statement.
Until Tuesday, the Lakers were allowed to use their facility for individual workouts. Other players could be in the building as long as they used different courts. Only a member of the coaching staff could be present to help each player. It was under those circumstances that James and his sons visited the team facility over the weekend.
James watched with pride as 12-year-old Bryce bounced the ball off the backboard to 15-year-old Bronny, who finished the play with a dunk. Moments later, Bryce attempted a sky hook, prompting James to shout, “Ey, Kareem!” not far from a wall affixed with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s retired jersey number.
They won’t be back for at least two weeks — one of the only things certain in an uncertain time.