Does the Bucks’ title, fueled by a 50-point Giannis Antetokounmpo explosion in Milwaukee’s clinching win over Phoenix, warrant an asterisk? Matt Sullivan, who recently authored a book about the NBA’s player empowerment revolution from the vantage point of the Brooklyn Nets, presented that argument during his appearance Thursday on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, implying the Bucks may have flouted COVID protocols by allowing Giannis to play Games 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals. Sullivan explored this subject in more depth in a profile for Rolling Stone.
“The Bucks really got sloppy,” said Sullivan, suggesting Milwaukee lets its guard down during the Finals, permitting friends and “entourage” members to join the team in Phoenix. “While the NBA tried to take some extra precautions, I think the players were kind of sick of this virus.”
Several Bucks staff members and one player—Giannis’ older brother, Thanasis—ultimately tested positive for the virus, creating a panic as the team scrambled to make sure their All-Star forward wouldn’t have to miss games. Thanasis sat out Games 5 and 6 while quarantining in his hotel room, though Giannis, after returning a negative test result, was given the green light.
“The NBA claimed that it finished its contact tracing,” said Sullivan, clearly skeptical of the league’s thoroughness in determining Giannis’ availability for Games 5 and 6. “Maybe somebody looks the other way. I mean we’re talking about the big business of basketball here.”
Weeks earlier, Suns point guard Chris Paul, despite being vaccinated, missed Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals after a positive COVID test. Though Giannis claims to have received the vaccine, Sullivan said it was an “open secret” that neither Antetokounmpo brother was vaccinated during the Bucks’ playoff run. NBA COVID regulations, including protocols for contact tracing, are significantly stricter for players who are unvaccinated.
“I’m not sure that anybody knows [what happened] except for the NBA COVID czar who I talked to, who was forthright with his amazing program but very cagey when it came to Giannis, as was really everybody I talked to that was close to that brain trust,” said Sullivan, who expressed his frustration that none of the local media or Bucks beat reporters have ever bothered to ask Giannis when he got vaccinated. “[If] Giannis goes out for Game 5 or 6, not only is the future of sports history [affected], kind of that ultimate what if, but I think the big business of basketball sometimes wins. These scientists who work for the NBA, these expert epidemiologists, are talking about asterisks now.”
While Sullivan stopped short of making that declaration himself, deeming the Bucks’ Finals victory null and void on the basis that Antetokounmpo shouldn’t have been eligible to play, it does seem awfully suspicious that Giannis, despite his uncertain (at that time) vaccination status and proximity to his older brother, made it through the league’s protocol in such short order.