What Nikola Jokic’s positive coronavirus test means for the NBA’s return

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic has tested positive for coronavirus.

Earlier on Tuesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported what always figured to be the case eventually: The NBA was bracing for a significant number of positive test results for coronavirus as it neared Phase 1 of its plans to resume the 2019-20 season. The names of prominent players were sure to follow close behind.

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic is the first notable name being reported as testing positive for COVID-19, according to Woj. He tested positive in Serbia, which means his return to the United States will be delayed temporarily. NBA teams returned to practice facilities on Tuesday to begin the initial testing phase of the league’s protocol for return, which will have teams travel to Orlando in waves from July 7-9.

At a recent event in Belgrade, Jokic spent some time with tennis star and fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic, who revealed he had tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday as well. Jokic is the Nuggets’ second known positive test for COVID-19 after head coach Michael Malone revealed that he had tested positive for coronavirus during the league’s hiatus. Jokic was averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game this season and had lost 40 pounds during the break.

This news shouldn’t be surprising. The league was already bracing for a high number of positive tests, and the whole point of this initial testing phase that’s beginning stateside is to identify the players who will need to quarantine before any basketball activities can begin.

Hearing that an All-NBA center and star of a playoff team has coronavirus is obviously disconcerting, but the bigger problem the league will have on its hands is if (or rather, when) someone tests positive within the bubble once all 22 teams are at the Walt Disney Resort. The NBA will implement an extensive list of rules and protocol within the bubble, but a potential outbreak in Orlando the graver concern right now.

This all begs the question of whether the NBA should be returning at all, and it probably shouldn’t, given that we don’t know the long-term effects of this virus. Carrying on with the season in the wake of a threat we don’t know enough about is putting thousands of people at risk.

However, in regards to what the means for the NBA’s plans, the truth is it means very little. A positive test in this early stage — even to a prominent player of Jokic’s status — isn’t going to upend the league’s process for returning, especially when there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. That’s just the unfortunate reality at this point.

Next: Which NBA and WNBA players are opting out?

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