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SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 8: The NBA Playoff logo seat covering, on the Utah Jazz team's chairs, before their game against the Golden State Warriors in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 8, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff,

BOSTON, Mass. — The NBA is dunking on COVID-19. Mainly because everyone is putting the safety of others ahead of misplaced priorities and public meltdowns.

America likes to politicize everything these days, so naturally it’s extended to a needless debate and culture war over wearing masks in public and the right to refuse. In the face of an easily-spread virus that’s spiking in more cavalier regions of the country, anti-maskers at the very least lack consideration for unwittingly passing the virus to someone more vulnerable. Literally spitting in the face of that possibility.

COVID-19 may not be deadly to most, but it has killed over 610,000 worldwide and in the U.S. it led to a destructive economic shutdown – which may not have been necessary if we all put on the masks way sooner. Anti-mask hardos ought to be on board with facial protection for economic reasons alone. The virus needs to go away for life to go back to its typical level of lunacy. Don’t you want the thing to go away?

The anti-mask mind virus continues to sweep the country, as smartphones and social media amplify the most cringeworthy scenes. But down in Orlando, coincidentally within the current epicenter of the virus in America, the NBA has become an exceptional case study of the benefits when virtually everyone puts their outsized pride aside and wears a mask when needed. No delays, no threats of a shutdown, and now, no positive COVID-19 tests.

None of the 346 players inside the “bubble” in Orlando have tested positive for the virus since July 13, as the NBA announced in a news release on Monday. It’s an improvement over the two players that tested positive out of 322 tests from July 7-13. Rockets star Russell Westbrook tested positive for the virus before the team departed for Orlando.

But the danger is dwindling. And while the threat is not necessarily gone forever, the grand NBA COVID experiment is working so far. We can have a conversation about the terrifying tech of “contract tracing,” but it should not be a big deal for humans to temporarily strap on some cloth. Thankfully, it hasn’t been a big deal at Disney.

The NBA is having early success containing COVID-19 with players and coaches masking up. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The NBA is having early success containing COVID-19 with players and coaches masking up. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The NBA’s health and safety protocols have ranged from the logical and sensible, like masks and social distancing, to frivolous like singles-only ping pong. But they’ve successfully weeded out the virus for the time being. Almost everyone is handling it like a responsible adult.

Unfortunately the word “almost” is necessary here, because Dwight Howard sounds a bit misguided at the moment. Nobody likes a rat, so it’s easy to sympathize with Howard’s gripe over being reported for not wearing a mask while out by himself. But good lord he is really not helping himself by taking a strong anti-vaccine stance on top of the mask sloppiness. The guy is just begging for a Rudy Gobert situation at this point. At least a visit from the Twitter police.

“It was pointless for somebody to tell that I didn’t have a mask on by myself,” Howard said Saturday (via USA Today). “I don’t even know when this would’ve happened. I just think everybody’s making a big deal out of it. But I feel like we’re in the safest place in Orlando. We get tested every day. So we’re only around each other.”

Well clearly the internet is going to make a big deal about it because the internet makes a big deal about everything. But fortunately, pretty much no one else in the NBA right now is being like Dwight. Masks have become the silliest hill to die on in 2020, which is really, truly saying something when you consider the psychotic episodes unfolding on the internet this year. The problem is that much of the country is too polarized to assume the nuanced position of being both pro-mask and anti-shutdown. Even though there’s powerful evidence that the philosophy works.

TOKYO, JAPAN - MARCH 26: Commuters wearing face masks make their way to work on March 26, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike held a press conference last night to request citizens to refrain from going outside this weekend for nonessential reasons after 41 cases of new coronavirus infections were confirmed yesterday. She warned that Tokyo, one of the largest and most densely populated cities on earth, could face a lockdown if there is a surge in new coronavirus cases. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

TOKYO, JAPAN – MARCH 26: Commuters wearing face masks make their way to work on March 26, 2020. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Know what I like? Japan. The country hasn’t been immune to the economic strife racking the U.S. and many other countries around the globe, but it never had to shut down entirely either. A panel of medical experts agreed that a nationwide embracing of masks, hand-washing, and social distancing has played a major role in its relative success containing the virus. The vast majority of the population adopted masks relatively early – some because they’re already used to it for the pollen – and now, Japan’s 985 deaths are microscopic compared to the United States. The country’s 199 cases per million people is among the lowest rates in the world. It’s fair to believe we’ve achieved a similar effect here in Massachusetts.

It’s obviously much easier to get everyone on board in a country as homogenous as Japan, as opposed to the vast diversity of the U.S. population, in both ethnicity and ideology. But the fight against COVID-19 shouldn’t be ideological at all. This is a battle of humans against science and nature. It makes me think we’d find a way to politicize the aliens when they finally invade us at the end of the year.

In the NBA, though, the humans are winning. It would be swell if the same teamwork took place across the rest of the country.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at