SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in two months, the sound of a ball dribbling echoed through the Zions Bank Basketball Campus.
On Monday, a handful of Utah Jazz players participated in voluntary, individual workouts at the practice facility, the team announced. It’s the first time players were permitted to enter the facility since March 11 when Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the NBA shutting down.
On Friday, the NBA began allowing teams in areas where stay-at-home orders have been lifted to reopen their facilities. But there are still strict guidelines enforced. There can be no more than four players inside at any one time and staffers are required to wear masks and gloves. No team activities are currently allowed.
Along with those guidelines, Dennis Lindsey, Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations, said the team will be even more stringent in order to help with the safety of the players.
“We have worked closely with state health officials, our own medical team, and the health performance team, as well as the health performance team coming from the NBA,” Lindsey told reporters last week. “We're going to ramp up systematically.”
He said Jazz Vice President of Performance Health Care Mike Elliott has laid out a plan to help bring the players back.
“The biggest goal is to have the confidence of the players and the staff that they can enter the facility safely,” Lindsey said. “We're taking it very seriously. You guys have all heard the stories of how serious Mike Elliot, Quin (Snyder) and myself, took the COVID-19 updates.”
Before the NBA shutdown, the Jazz had regular meetings with health care officials to address the growing pandemic.
During the lockdown, many players have been without a place to actually play. While Mike Conley returned to his Columbus, Ohio, home where he has an indoor gym — something he used to his advantage in winning the NBA HORSE Competition — most players have been without a real hoop to shoot on. And while Utah company Lifetime provided the local Jazz players (along with dozens more across the nation) outdoor hoops, it’s not quite the same as a professional facility.
Now, at least the Jazz players have access to one of those again.
“We're very excited to see our players, we do have a significant number here locally, and we will follow all those protocols,” Lindsey said. “But with that said, we look forward to having them in our building soon.”
That, though, isn’t a clear sign the NBA will soon be returning. In most markets, practice facilities remain shut and there are still many hurdles to climb before teams can even practice together, let alone begin games again.
"Until there's a vaccine, or some cocktail preventing people from dying from the virus, we are going to be dealing with this collectively," NBA commissioner Adam Silver told NBA players in a conference call on Friday, according to ESPN. "The ultimate issue is how much risk we're all comfortable taking."
In that call, Silver said teams gathering in one or two locations — Orlando and Las Vegas have been mentioned as potential cities — and playing out the season made the most sense. But some players have reservations about such a plan, especially when it comes to leaving their families for a long period of time.
"They've got personalities," Jazz forward Joe Ingles said of his kids. "They know when I'm leaving, they tell me they miss me, the stuff like that that makes it a lot harder to leave. Even just leaving to go to the supermarket, it's like they cry and they don't want to leave and stuff. So two or three months without them would be borderline impossible for me. … We'll have to see what happens."
According to the ESPN report, Silver told the players, “The goal isn't to have you go to a market for two months to sit in a hotel room."
There’s still a lot to work out for the NBA to come back this season, but Monday provided a bit of a return for at least for some Jazz players.