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Coronavirus: NBA commissioner defends league, calls triaging of tests 'unfortunate'

"I understand from a public health standpoint why some people have reacted the way they did," Adam Silver said of criticism over the league's testing players with no symptoms.
Image: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media during a press conference at the United Center in Chicago on Feb. 15, 2020.Stacy Revere / Getty Images file

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday responded to criticism of the league's testing of players who weren't sick for the coronavirus, an issue that has highlighted concerns over whether society's elite are getting priority screening for the deadly virus.

"It's unfortunate we're at this position as a society where it's triage when it comes to testing," the basketball league chief said in an interview Wednesday night on ESPN's "SportsCenter." "And so the fundamental issue is obviously there are insufficient tests."

Silver said his league was only following the recommendations of public health officials, and that he understands the point made by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

De Blasio chastised the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday for testing players showing no symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. He made his remark shortly after the Nets announced that four of their players were among an unknown number of team members tested for the coronavirus. Three of the four, including Kevin Durant, one of the league's biggest stars, showed no symptoms.

"We wish them a speedy recovery. But, with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested," de Blasio tweeted. "Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick."

President Donald Trump joined the debate after he was asked at a Wednesday news conference whether "the well-connected go to the front of the line."

“You’d have to ask them that question,” the president replied. “But perhaps that’s been the story of life. That does happen on occasion, and I’ve noticed where some people have been tested fairly quickly.”

The NBA has been a focal point in the debate about who has access to tests since two players from the Utah Jazz tested positive last week.

Silver said the testing began last week in Oklahoma City when it was required of the visiting Utah Jazz.

"The Oklahoma public health official there on the spot not only required that they be tested, but they weren't allowed to leave their locker room, which was for at least four hours after the game where they had to stay, masks on, in the locker room," Silver said.

"And then what followed, when we then had additional positive tests the next day, the protocol that we then followed with health officials' and our doctors' recommendations that we then looked at essentially that group of teams that were most proximate to the initial team that had tested positive and then the circle expanded from there," he said.

Injured Brooklyn Nets center Kevin Durant stands and applauds this team's performance during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks on Oct. 25, 2019, in New York.Kathy Willens / AP file

Silver said that eight NBA teams and members of other teams who were showing symptoms have been tested for the coronavirus.

The league has disclosed few details on how it gained access to the tests. In a statement Wednesday, the Nets defended how they obtained the test kits, saying the team sourced the tests through a private company and "paid for them ourselves." The Nets said they did not want to impact access to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public resources.

The NBA abruptly suspended its season March 11 after Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive. Jazz player Donovan Mitchell and Christian Wood of the Detroit Pistons were also revealed to have tested positive last week for the coronavirus.

Silver said Wednesday the decision to suspend the season was not forced by public health officials. It was his own.

"I understand from a public health standpoint why some people have reacted the way they did, but I'd say from an NBA standpoint, we were following directives," Silver said.