Corona Virus in the NBA — A New Patient Zero
It’s been almost a month since Rudy Gobert was first diagnosed with the corona virus (read my other stories about corona and the NBA: part 1, part 2, and part 3). This article is an update with everything we know now along with a possible explanation of origin. Since those original announcements by various players and teams all but the Nuggets, 76ers, and Knicks staff have announced they are now symptom free.
There were a total of 16 NBA players and coaches who tested positive across eight different teams:
- 2 Players from the Utah Jazz
- 2 Players from Detroit Pistons
- 1 Player from Boston Celtics
- 4 Players from the Brooklyn Nets
- 2 Players from the LA Lakers
- 1 Member of Denver Nuggets
- 3 Members of Philadelphia 76ers
- 1 Member (owner) of the New York Knicks
Also, Jason Collins, former Nets center, attended the Nets vs. Grizzlies game on March 4 and believes he contracted the virus while attending the game.
Here is the chart of all teams the Nets played, and all the teams those teams played.
I’ve marked the teams with members of their organization who have tested positive with an ARGH (if they came via the Celtics path), UGH (if they came directly via the Nets), or NPC (if it was a coach, though the Knicks were also on the Celtics path).
If we assume transmission only happens during NBA games (a rather big, simplifying assumption but maybe not too bad), a few things are interesting about this:
- This single chart contains a path to every infection. That’s interesting in that there are 30 teams in the NBA with 8 announcing positive tests. This chart has 18 teams on it and none of the other 12 teams have had a single member announce a positive result. I haven’t figured out the odds of that happening, but with help from the back of an envelope I came up with around 13%. Martin, what is it really? :) Of course, if none of the other teams have been tested and only teams that have played other infected teams are tested the odds are 100%.
- The Nets vs. Celtics game was the original ground zero for corona transmission in the NBA. The Nets have more players with positive diagnosis than anyone (with four) and the Celtics only have one, so there’s some argument that this all started with the Nets and one of their players was patient zero for corona in the NBA. Particularly given the horrible state of affairs in NY right now, seems reasonable that cases were ramping up early March. (Full disclosure: I’m a Warriors fan but I’m doing my best to not let that color the analysis.)
- Jazz players were the first to announce positive tests on March 11 followed by the Celtics on March 19. If the Celtics player was infected during the Nets game (March 3), he was asymptomatic for at least a week as he played a full game on March 10th.
- The Nuggets (there was no announcement about who on the team is infected) never played a team with announced infected players. They did play the Cavaliers who played the infected Celtics, but no one on the Cavaliers has tested positive. So the transmission path to the Nuggets may have been outside NBA games.
- After the Celtics, the Nets played the Grizzlies, Spurs and Bulls none of which have announced positive tests, nor do we even know whether the players were tested. The fact that there is no infection among these teams seems really lucky: If the virus was already active during the March 3 Celtics game, you would think that it would have been getting more contagious after that. So that’s a puzzler. Back in mid March, tests were slow and hard to come by so people with mild symptoms may not have been tested. Certainly would be interesting to know if these teams were tested.
- The fact that Jason Collins believes he contracted the virus while attending the Nets Grizzlies game gives more weight to the Nets as ground zero theory.
Of course, this is all speculation based on little evidence but it’s a surprisingly simple explanation for all of the announced cases with the exception of the Nuggets. The data could easily be incomplete: Players may have tested positive and not announced the results, or players may simply not have been tested on other teams so we have no idea whether anyone in the rest of the league has it or not.
That said, it’s plausible and if true shows just how nasty the virus is. These guys are playing a demanding sport while potentially shedding virus. And while they are in great shape and showing minimal to no signs, others end up getting hospitalized or worse.
There’s a good chance the lockdown will last a while, though maybe they can find a way to test and track the NBA players and provide a safe environment for them to play again. They set a great example by shutting down early, it probably wouldn’t be the best example if they restarted the season while everything else is on lockdown, but I would get over that one real quick. :)