Happy National Hugging Day.

You may not have known that NHD – as hugging professionals call it – is celebrated on Jan. 21 this year. For that matter, you may have been unaware that such a day exists at all.

But it does, in all its cling-tight-to-someone glory.

Just excuse the NBA for not actively taking part in any of the hugging festivities.

To try to help slow the uptick in COVID-19 cases within the league and around the country, the players’ association worked with NBA executives to draw up more stringent social-distancing protections for players, staffs, referees and all the other people who help make NBA games happen.

Road teams are only allowed out of hotel rooms for meals, games and practices. They cannot leave the hotel for meals. On the court, they are subject to stricter guidelines when it comes to interactions with other players such as pregame and postgame visits and celebratory touches on the court, which of course, would include hugging.

These habits that players have been used to for their entire lives are proving difficult to break, however. Players have been high-fiving, fist-bumping, jump-bumping and hugging it out before and after games forever. It’s what they do.

Nevertheless, the league is trying to do the right things to keep everybody safe, even if it means curbing National Hugging Day activities.

“The new protocols that they’ve put in place this past week I think are a great step,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Just to increase the level of safety and try to do everything in our power to keep things safe for everyone involved, players, coaches, people working in the building. You name it. It just takes a high level of cooperation. But I applaud it.”

It’s true that players and coaches in the NBA make terrific salaries. If staying cooped up in a luxury hotel room is the price to keep the business going, it seems like a small price to pay.

But NBA players are as human as the next person. Nobody is supposed to live in isolation. Interaction with people is a basic need of life.

For the Mavericks, who have a fun-loving group of players, it’s even tougher.

“Everybody knows – if people were following us in the bubble – we’re an active team off the floor,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “We love to be around one another, we love to go to dinner. We love to hang out.

“It’s kind of tough to do that when you’re isolated, basically, in your hotel rooms and you can only come out when it’s food. You can’t even walk outside to catch some fresh air.”

There has been talk about NBA players getting in line for the coronavirus vaccine. However, the league has been adamant that there will be no line-jumping on their part.

When it’s their turn, they’ll get vaccinated. But even after that, it could be awhile before the new protocols are relaxed.

“It’s tough,” Hardaway said. “We just have to do the best we can. Everybody’s in the same boat as us. We just got to roll with it and deal with it.”

Just don’t hug anybody while you’re doing so.

Twitter: @ESefko

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