The NBA Virus—Why Is COVID-19 Affecting So Many Basketball Players?
Roopinder Tara posted on March 24, 2020 |
With all players touching the same basketball, are they spreading the virus?
A joke no more. Donovan Mitchell, one of the players on the Utah Jazz infected with COVID-19, is seen here in a 2017 video explaining to someone that the proper way to apply spit to shoes is by first licking your hand—not licking the shoe directly. (Image courtesy of YouTube.) https://youtu.be/WaNhqvdYv7g.
A joke no more. Donovan Mitchell, one of the players on the Utah Jazz infected with COVID-19, is seen here in a 2017 video explaining to someone that the proper way to apply spit to shoes is by first licking your hand—not licking the shoe directly. (Image courtesy of YouTube.) https://youtu.be/WaNhqvdYv7g.

It’s not been a good time for basketball. Last month the sport lost a legend after Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed into an LA hillside. This week we learned that Kevin Durant has COVIDS-19. He is not alone. Three of his fellow Brooklyn Nets teammates have also tested positive. That brings the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 among NBA players to seven: Utah Jazz (2 players: Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell), LA Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers (3 people in the organization), Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics (2 players).

That’s one in 65 of the NBA’s total of 450 players. Only 25 percent of the NBA players have been tested, so the proportion of players infected may go higher, but already the number of players infected represents a much higher proportion when compared to the U.S. population in general, where one in 78,000 are infected. The NBA has cancelled the 2019-2020 season.

So far, the National Hockey League has two players who have tested positive for the virus, but it also has suspended its season. Major league baseball has postponed spring training and the start of its regular season.

Soccer also has many athletes infected with COVID-19. The Los Angeles Times is keeping a running total of infected players and at the time of this writing, lists 17 players as having tested positive.

One explanation for the high proportion of infection among basketball and soccer players may be the one thing they all are in contact with—the ball. COVID-19 is spread by direct contact (human to human) and also by human contact with surfaces that have the virus on them.

Recent testing of several different materials in a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has an affinity for plastics and is able to survive over three days on plastic surfaces. The test was focusing on materials commonly found in hospitals (stainless steel, plastic, copper and cardboard).

Basketballs have an outer covering of rubber or leather or a synthetic version of both. Synthetic rubber is made from petrochemicals, as are plastics. Synthetic leather, the outer covering of soccer balls, is made from polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride.

SARS-CoV-2 from hands touching surfaces and then introduced to the face is thought to be a common method of transmission of COVID-19. The same basketball is used by all players of both teams in a game, is handled by officials, and is used by the entire team in practice. Players and officials are not only sharing the ball; they are also sharing the virus.

In addition to handling the ball, basketball players have a habit of wiping the bottoms of their shoes. Some players, especially those on high school teams, lick their hands and wipe the spit on their shoes. The liquid briefly provides extra traction on the wood floor of indoor basketball courts. Schools have sought to wipe out the “disgusting habit.” The application of spit to shoe soles is rare in NBA players, who have made the yellow sticky pads called Slip-Notts a courtside mainstay. NBA player Duane Wade promotes an acetone-based Court Grip, another alternative to athletes effectively licking their shoes. “It’s disgusting,” Wade said to the New York Times in this 2011 interview.


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