No high-fives, please
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2020 - 12:00am

It’ll be a whole new ball game when the PBA’s 45th season restarts in the Clark bubble on Oct. 11. Strict safety protocols will be imposed, following the guidelines set by the IATF and the PBA won’t compromise in making sure everyone abides by the guiding principle of adhering to government standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When the game begins, there will be no high-fives, fist-bumps, spitting and clearing of nose on the court. Additionally, wiping the ball with a jersey, licking hands and touching things like shoes or the officials’ table to signify entering the court will be prohibited. PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said yesterday the acts will be discouraged and warnings will be issued when warranted.

Habits are hard to break and players must be conscious of the restrictions, particularly the Larry Bird practice of wiping the palm of the hand on the sole of a shoe. Bird once said he did it to put grit on his hands for more control of the ball and to keep his hands dry. Playing with or unnecessarily touching a mouthguard is also a no-no. Chris Ross should be aware of this prohibition. In the NBA, it’s tolerated and players like Jimmy Butler are spotted putting the gumshield in and out of the mouth with their hands. Some players even tuck the mouthpiece inside their socks or inside their jersey – a totally unsanitary thing to do.

Face masks must be worn at all times by everyone on the bench, including players, with no exemptions. Coaches will be mandated to wear face masks. Only the 10 players and three referees on the court will be spared from the requirement of wearing face masks. In the NBA, coaches wear and remove face masks, depending on how loud they want to be heard. In the PBA, players will sit one seat apart and assistant coaches and other team officials will be situated one row above the players’ bench.

Before the game, there will be no early shootarounds. Teams will be in their dugouts until they’re called for warmups. Players must already be in their game uniforms when they enter the Angeles University Foundation gym. Mandatory temperature checks will be done on everyone entering the gym premises. There will be foot bath and disinfecting mats laid out for those entering and leaving the gym. Participants will bring their own personal towels and drinking bottles. Personal belongings and all equipment will be sanitized.

After the game, all worn uniforms will be placed in a dirty clothes bag separate from personal belongings. The entire PBA contingent will be about 350, excluding TV5 and PBA Rush/Cignal’s production team. Each of the 12 teams submitted a delegation of 25, including 15 players with no reserves. Everyone should have checked in at the Quest Hotel Plus Conference Center in the Mimosa Leisure Estate by now. The PBA will allow late entries only up to Oct. 10 to accommodate Fil-foreigners arriving from abroad and players undergoing or finishing treatment or rehab. There will be 41 PBA officials and staff in the bubble. A total of 16 referees, including five in Class A, will be rotated for the eliminations and may be reduced to 10 to 12 when the playoffs begin, depending on their performance.

The big difference in the game atmosphere is lack of a live audience. It will be a major adjustment for players who draw inspiration and energy from the crowd. But playing behind closed doors is a small price to pay for restarting the season and getting the PBA back on track despite the challenges of this pandemic.

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