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Saturday Sports: COVID-19 Throws A Wrench Into Basketball At All Levels


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: The Toronto Raptors really want to play, you know, in Toronto, but can't because of COVID. Golden State Warriors want fans in the stadium but can't because of COVID. High schoolers want to get back to sports but can't because of - bet you can finish that sentence. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Nice to be with you, my friend.

GOLDMAN: Good to be with you.

SIMON: Toronto Raptors couldn't work it out with the Canadian government to play at home. So they're going to move the whole operation to Tampa like the Blue Jays, who shuffled off to Buffalo. I feel terrible for Toronto. These are two good teams. And they can't play, you know, before fans who love them. What's going on?

GOLDMAN: Well, there are strict COVID rules in Canada governing travel between Canada and the U.S., including a required 14-day quarantine for anyone entering Canada for nonessential reasons. Now, two weeks is impossible for NBA teams with their tightly packed schedules. So the Raptors came up with a plan of safety protocols and testing they hoped would be enough to get an exemption from the quarantine. But the Canadian government said, no, there's too much COVID out there - Toronto, in fact, going on lockdown. And cases, of course, are surging in much of the U.S. So it'll be the Tampa Raptors, at least to start the season. And as you mentioned, they'll be vagabonds like baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, who played their home games in Buffalo this past season.

SIMON: Now, speaking of testing in the NBA, the owner of the Golden State Warriors had a plan to bring fans into the stadium, but it was rejected this week by the San Francisco Health Department. What happened?

GOLDMAN: Well, the same thing Canada told the Raptors - now is just not the time. Owner Joe Lacob wanted to fill San Francisco's Chase Center to 50% capacity. That's about 9,000 fans. He even offered to pay around $30 million to test everyone entering the arena. Scott, as you know, NBA teams are desperate to get fans back and to get fans' money back. But Lacob said he also wanted this to be a blueprint for how to safely bring large amounts of people inside. The San Francisco Health Department said maybe later when the pandemic eases up.

SIMON: In other Warrior news, Klay Thompson sustained an injury that will end his season. You always got to worry about coming back from that. And, you know, a great player and he just hasn't been able to do what he's best at.

GOLDMAN: This was a tough one. You know, he's a five-time All-Star. He spent all last season rehabbing a torn ligament in his left knee. The hope was, with him back, the Warriors could be relevant again. Remember; between 2015 and 2019, they were a dynasty. They went to five straight NBA finals, won three titles. But then this week, he tore his right Achilles while working out. And as you say, he's expected to miss a second straight year - tough news.

SIMON: High school sports - more states canceling their high school sports program for the winter. This is tough on the athletes, tough on families. But these are tough times.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. And, you know, in the states that are pausing these sports, like Utah, Minnesota, Illinois, California, there's debate, and it's sometimes pretty heated. You know, one side says, let them play. Kids need the physical, social and mental benefits of sport. They say, statistically, kids don't get seriously ill from COVID. The other side says, most states don't preemptively test high school kids like they do in college and pro sports, so they're sending young athletes out to play, running the risk of spreading the virus. And while they might not be affected as much, Scott, there's concern, obviously, that older adults they come in contact with will.

SIMON: Yeah. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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