Chinese league calls Americans back to play

Jonathan Givony | ESPN

As sporting leagues around the world grapple with how to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese Basketball Association has told American players to plan to return as early as this weekend and prepare for the league to resume in early April. But it’s not clear if the players will comply.

Approximately 40 Americans — including former NBA players Jeremy LinLance StephensonTyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson — are under contract with the 20 teams that make up the Chinese Basketball Association. Most foreign players were sent home over the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, with instructions to prepare to return in mid- to late February.

As positive signs have emerged in China in recent weeks regarding containment of the virus, CBA team officials are discussing several formats for how to resume play, sources told ESPN, including hosting all 20 teams in one or two cities and playing a truncated regular season and playoff schedule, without fans.

American players have been informed that they will be required to spend 14 days in quarantine upon return to China, sources told ESPN, although details remain sparse regarding where and how that process would be conducted.

A memo dispersed to CBA teams by the league, a translated copy of which was acquired by ESPN, reads as follows:

“To all CBA clubs,

“In January 2020, the new coronavirus broke out in many places across the country. According to the requirements of national epidemic prevention and control, we postponed the subsequent games of the 2019-2020 CBA season scheduled to be held on February 1. At present, the situation of epidemic prevention and control in CBA cities is basically stable. In order to better respond to the national requirements on precise prevention and control, solid and orderly promotion of return to work and production, shoulder the mission and task of sports confidence, warm people’s hearts and gather people’s hearts, according to the relevant requirements of China Basketball Association on the restart of the league, the rest of the games of the 2019-2020 CBA season will restart from the beginning of April.

“All clubs and teams are requested to prepare for the restart of CBA League as early as April 2. At the same time, all teams should comply with the relevant requirements of the national and local epidemic prevention and control departments, continue to strengthen the epidemic prevention and control work, do a good job in making detailed and solid security measures such as epidemic prevention and control, and ensure the health and safety of club and team members. Details of the restart will be notified separately.”

Conversations with players and representatives for around half of the Americans in the league revealed a significant amount of trepidation for how to proceed, with many players flatly stating at the moment that they do not plan on getting on a plane to China anytime in the near future due to safety concerns, at least not without significantly more information in hand.

The U.S. Department of State issued a travel advisory on Feb. 2 advising U.S. citizens not to travel to China after the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency. Some, but not all airlines have suspended service to mainland China. Players ESPN spoke with have expressed concerns about whether they will be allowed to return to the U.S. after the conclusion of the league, and whether they will be forced to undergo another process of being quarantined upon arrival.

The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 120,000 people in over 100 countries, and more than 4,000 deaths worldwide have been attributed to the virus. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it. It was officially declared a pandemic on March 11.