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Suns’ Monty Williams feels safe playing as NBA’s COVID-19 cases grow

Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns watches from the bench during the first half of the NBA preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The NBA calendar is rigorous and offers little wiggle room during the season, but the past year-plus has been the most demanding, with most of it taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That, unfortunately, didn’t make it surprising to hear Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams say that he hadn’t seen his mom since Thanksgiving of 2019.

Williams, who is from the Washington, D.C., area, was going to take the opportunity to change that being in Washington on Monday to take on the Wizards.

He was also going to be safe and follow the rules. As such, he got to see his mother, but from her car and a distance in the parking lot of his hotel.

“That’s all you can do man,” he said pregame Monday. “We understand the rules. I certainly can’t bring anybody in the hotel but I was gonna see my mom, just from a distance. It’s just where we are.”

After coronavirus numbers decreased in the summer and the fall, November saw a second surge of the virus across Arizona and the country.

Looking at the case numbers from tests on a specific day, that number stayed below 2,000 in Arizona from July 22 to Nov. 11, including a run from Aug. 5 to Oct. 13 where it never hit 1,000, per the Arizona Department of Health and Services. Those numbers have dramatically risen since, reaching a record high on Nov. 23 of nearly 6,000. And that’s nothing compared to the current peaks, which recently registered at 11,313 positive tests from cases on Dec. 28 and 11,293 on Jan. 4. Those numbers show no sign of declining yet as the nation’s vaccine rollout commences.

After the NBA’s very successful bubble in Orlando, this season is back out of that format and to traveling, all during the worst statistical outbreak of the virus yet. Unsurprisingly, this has led to positive tests within the NBA.

Due to the league’s protocols on contact tracing, conclusive tests and so on, there have now been four games postponed because of teams not having the necessary amount of eligible players (8). It has already led to bizarre circumstances as well, such as the Philadelphia 76ers having to play with only seven players.

Most recently, the Dallas Mavericks appear to have had the first legitimate outbreak. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon and Zach Lowe reported Monday the Mavs have had four players test positive. The league had zero positive tests from Dec. 24-30 but that number grew to four for the next week. The league-wide data for the current week has not yet been released.

This has led to discussions about the sturdiness of the NBA’s foundation at the moment. The league is approaching more teams having players out for positive tests or contact tracing than not. The Suns are one of them, currently with Jalen Smith out due to health and safety protocols. Williams has not been willing to comment further on what that’s due to.

So, Williams was asked if he felt safe playing right now.

“You know what, I really do,” he said. “But I understand that no one’s doing anything on purpose to put anybody in harm’s way. That’s how I look at it. I do feel safe but I also understand that things happen because … I mean, Arizona’s numbers are off the charts. I just heard about Southern California today, like, crazy. It’s just a weird time.”

Williams credited what the league has in place for that feeling.

“As a coach and someone who is in somewhat of a traveling bubble, I feel safer than the general public, because we get tested every morning,” he said. “And if you don’t have the right outcome, you’re going to be removed … I feel like I’m in the safest spot in the world to be honest with you because pro sports is taking so many precautions to keep us that way.”

With the 2020-21 season about to reach the three-week mark, Williams wasn’t able to offer any suggestions on what could change to make everyone safer.

“I don’t know what else they can do … the players don’t get enough credit for what they sacrificed,” he said. “I feel like that should really be put out there: the players are doing a ton. I’m old and boring so I got nothing going on but the players — this is the prime of their lives as far as being in the NBA and being able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and for the most part, you’re stuck at home and in a hotel.”

After just wrapping up a back-to-back in Detroit on Friday and Indiana on Saturday, Williams gave his players the day off Sunday to heal up and to also rest up mentally. As many of us are dealing with, though, that mental break could only be in an isolated space.


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