Good news! Your favorite basketball team apparently won’t feature any anti-vaccination zealots this season.
Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey confirmed at the team’s annual media day Sept. 27 that the entire roster and basketball operations staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“They presented the opportunity, and I said, ‘Can I bring my family, too?” said Olympic gold medalist Damian Lillard at today’s press event. “And they said, ‘Yeah.’ And that was it… I’ve had people in my family actually die, and people actually lose their lives to it. And [vaccination] is a way for me to protect myself and the people that I love—I’m gonna do it.”
Among NBA teams, the Blazers have been on the forefront of COVID vaccination progress. In March, the Blazers announced that 13 of 15 players received shots from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Today’s confirmation of 100% vaccination closes the loop, confirming that players added to the roster this summer are also vaccinated.
This includes Larry Nance Jr., who has already begun endearing himself to the Rose City.
In addition to Olshey’s confirmation that the basketball operations staff is vaccinated, Blazers staffer Casey Holdahl suggested on Twitter that the team has required vaccination for all employees.
Unfortunately, the rest of the NBA did not demonstrate the same dedication to public health as the Blazers.
Several noteworthy players around the league—including Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Washington Wizards wing Bradley Beal—minced no words: They are not vaccinated and do not plan to get vaccinated.
Ordinarily, it would be best to let such ignorance suffocate in obscurity, but the league has allowed the anti-vaxx players to exert enough influence that they must be acknowledged.
First, the 10% of players who are choosing not to get the anti-COVID jab have been allowed to dictate league policy, reportedly rendering an outright vaccine mandate a nonstarter in ongoing policy negotiations between the NBA and the players’ union. This stands in stark contrast to the WNBA, which reached 99% vaccination largely via a push from the players’ union.
The Blazers’ own CJ McCollum currently serves as president of the players’ union but seems largely unperturbed by the inane controversy.
No word on what his wife, Columbia-educated surgeon Elise McCollum, thinks about the matter.
Second, the unvaccinated pose a risk to various team staffers who must interact closely with players as part of their jobs. Several NBA employees, including assistant coaches, voiced their frustration to ESPN, noting that an unvaccinated player could put high-risk family members in harm’s way.
The conundrum that teams’ employees face—risk COVID exposure or reconsider their employment options—is especially poignant given the salary discrepancies between typical staff members and the players. Multimillionaires with access to unparalleled medical treatment disregarding the risks that support staff face while ICUs around the country brush up against capacity is an awful look for the NBA.
The good news is that Portland doesn’t have to deal with that (until the Nets come to town, at least). After a summer of inexplicably disastrous decisions, the Blazers have demonstrated that when it comes to COVID response, they are among the top teams in the NBA. Check back in a few weeks to see if that translates to on-court success.