The Chicago Bulls placed center Tony Bradley into COVID-19 protocol Saturday, marking the first time this season a player on the team tested positive.
This time last year, COVID-19 was the Bulls’ worst opponent on and off the court. Eighteen Bulls players and coaches tested positive between Dec. 1, 2021, and Jan. 5, 2022. Games were postponed throughout the league because of the spread of the omicron virus. The issue lingered until the end of the season, when All-Star Zach LaVine and two Bulls assistant coaches tested positive during the opening round of the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks.
But the NBA diminished its emphasis on COVID-19 testing this season, allowing teams to choose whether to test players based on symptoms. As a result, it’s unclear how many unreported cases have occurred across the league.
“There’s probably a ton of guys (who are positive) throughout the league now because there really is no more testing unless they really feel sick,” coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s the one thing you just don’t know. It’s going to be dependent on if a guy feels sick enough.”
Donovan said Bradley’s main symptom was a “runny nose” and he still felt well enough to participate in practices and games. But Bradley chose to report the symptoms to the Bulls medical staff, who elected to rapidly test him and initiated isolation protocol when he tested positive. This has been the preferred method of testing for most NBA teams, but it makes for a hit-or-miss approach across the league.
The NBA no longer requires masking or proof of vaccination from players, coaches or fans. Crowds attending games at the United Center have skewed to less frequent use of masks, although that changed slightly during recent weeks of elevated COVID-19 cases and deaths around the holidays.
For the Bulls, Donovan said the experiences of staff members and players — such as assistant coach John Bryant, whose father died of COVID-19 in 2021 — have affected the team’s wariness in reporting symptoms of sickness.
“That’s a very, very traumatic experience,” Donovan said. “You try to just be as honest as you can about ‘Hey, this is what I’m feeling.’ It could be the flu, it could be COVID, it could be a runny nose. But I think you do have a responsibility to say, ‘I’m not feeling good.’ That’s the right thing to do.”