LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Orlando Magic star Evan Fournier is confident that it will be safe to play when the NBA season resumes in Florida next month despite a recent surge in coronavirus cases in the region.
Florida has emerged as one of the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, registering a dramatic spike in cases just as the NBA prepares to restart its season at Disney World in Orlando on 30 July.
Fournier told AFP in an interview that while the resurgence of the disease was a cause for concern, it had not affected preparations for the restart.
“The resurgence is worrying, but it doesn’t actually change habits,” the 27-year-old France international said.
“If anything, seeing more and more cases makes you want to be even more careful.”
Twenty-two teams will be based in Orlando for the remainder of the season, playing games without fans in a “bubble” designed to shield players and team personnel from the outside world.
Fournier believes the NBA’s safety protocols, which also include regular testing, should offer enough protection.
“For the NBA to take such a risk by resuming the season, the measures will be maximum,” Fournier said. “They will make our lives easier so that we do not have to ask questions and make us feel safe every day.”
Fournier is also reassured by NBA pledges to subject Disney World staff to additional testing. “That’s good,” he said.
“Honestly at first, the measures planned for them were nonsense.”
Fournier, meanwhile, says that financial considerations were the driving force behind NBA players’ embrace of the restart plans.
“At the beginning, there were a number of people who said that we had to stop the season,” Fournier said.
“But then we looked at some of the possible consequences — a potential lockout, changes in the salary cap. There would have been such negative effects that we finally agreed to end the season. So the main reason why we are playing again is money.”
Fournier also has sympathy with players who have raised concerns that the league’s restart could draw attention away from the nationwide protest movement against racism and police brutality following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd during his arrest by police in Minneapolis on 25 May.
“I understand those who don’t feel like playing because it could divert attention from this issue,” Fournier said. “But I believe we should use the restart of the season as an opportunity to be heard.”
“The whole world is going to watch us. I think the majority of players will come and we will all use this platform, the NBA, to get a big message out. It could be remarkable.”
Fournier, meanwhile, is apprehensive about the potential for rustiness affecting teams, who enter training camp next week. Fournier believes teams with star individuals may have an advantage when the season resumes.
“We haven’t had any opposition, contact games since March,” Fournier said.