‘It happened so fast.’ Lonzo Ball joins 2 teammates and coach Billy Donovan in NBA protocols as the Chicago Bulls continue to battle a COVID-19 outbreak.

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  • Lonzo Ball
    Lonzo Ball
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Billy Donovan
    Billy Donovan
    American college basketball player, professional basketball player, point guard, college basketball coach, NCAA Tournament championship coach
  • Tony Bradley
    American professional basketball player
  • Alfonzo McKinnie
    Alfonzo McKinnie
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|

Lonzo Ball became the third Chicago Bulls player to enter the league’s COVID-19 protocols Sunday. Ball joined teammates Tony Bradley and Alfonzo McKinnie after coach Billy Donovan entered the NBA protocols Thursday.

Sunday marked the first day of increased testing throughout the league to prevent further outbreaks due to the Christmas holiday. Starting Sunday, all players and coaches will be tested on game days unless they are 14 days removed from their booster shot. Players and staff also will be required to increase mask wearing on the sidelines during games and during team activities such as bus rides and practices.

The Bulls’ positive tests came swiftly Sunday around a scheduled shootaround session. Bradley and McKinnie returned positive tests directly before the shootaround began. Ball was removed from the training facility immediately after the session.

“It happened so fast. He was doing a little bit of post-practice shooting and I went into my office, and then he was out of the building,” assistant coach Chris Fleming said before serving as interim coach against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night at the United Center. “If you know how competitive Zo is, you know it’ll hurt. He loves to compete, loves to play. It’s tough.”

Fleming also is expected to fill in for Donovan against the Hawks on Monday in Atlanta. Donovan supplemented the coaching via Zoom throughout the weekend, helping Fleming to rework rotations after each set of positive tests Sunday.

The Bulls were enjoying a wave of excitement after the final batch of players previously in the protocols were cleared last week, including star guard Zach LaVine. The Bulls placed 11 players in the protocols in that span, although Devon Dotson tested out within 48 hours.

Donovan joked Wednesday that he suddenly had too many players to rotate, but that enthusiasm quickly changed. The Bulls now have placed 14 players and one coach in COVID-19 protocols in December. Center Nikola Vučević previously spent 11 days in quarantine with the virus in November. The coaching staff had remained unscathed until Donovan entered the protocols.

“Yeah, I don’t want to touch that,” Fleming joked before Sunday’s game. “(Athletic trainer) Todd Campbell sits to the right of me during the game and Coach (Donovan) sits to the left and they both had it. In Miami, (broadcaster) Chuck Swirsky and I and Bill Wennington went to breakfast and Bill popped that same day. So I don’t know how ... I’m just blessed to still be standing.”

Only three active players on the Bulls roster haven’t entered the COVID-19 protocols this season — Alex Caruso, Tyler Cook and Marko Simonović. None of the players who tested positive experienced serious symptoms, and Donovan said most of the Bulls were asymptomatic. LaVine expressed optimism about the outbreak’s ability to fortify the team against the virus in the future.

“Hopefully we have herd immunity coming back and we won’t have any more guys go down in the later months,” LaVine said after practice Wednesday. “I’m just thankful everybody is OK and everybody’s families are OK. Now we can get things rolling again as a full group.”

The NBA has battled COVID-19 outbreaks this month as variants and a holiday-related surge swept through the country. More than 100 players have landed in the league’s health and safety protocols in December. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the omicron variant accounted for 90% of positive cases.

Three Bulls games were postponed because of COVID-19 — two due to the Bulls’ outbreak and Wednesday night’s game against Toronto due to an outbreak among the Raptors.

The Bulls also will instate stricter guidelines for fans at the United Center in January. They will require proof of vaccination for all fans over the age of 5 in correspondence with the city’s new indoor vaccination requirement policies beginning Jan. 3.

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