With the second half of the 2020-21 NBA season still to be played, the Miami Heat should make a push into the playoff picture. Bam Adebayo is establishing himself as one of the league’s stars, while Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro are also among basketball’s best players on a nightly basis. Miami’s depth should also be a significant asset in the postseason.

Yet from a public health and fan standpoint, the Heat’s most valuable players this season might be the four coronavirus detection dogs the team is utilizing at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena as a limited number of fans (fewer than 2,000, according to the Miami Herald) are allowed to attend home games.

COVID-19 sniffing dogs? Really? Yes, really. The team has been sniffing out spectators entering the arena since the Heat’s first home game with fans on Jan. 28. In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Adam Iscoe talked to retired Marine sergeant Mike Larkin, whose company trains dogs to detect coronavirus.

“‘An explosive dog doesn’t know, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a bomb.’ They’re looking for an odor that they’ve been imprinted to react to, and they’re looking for their reward.'”

[…]

“‘Everything has a unique odor signature—a piece of plastic, a pair of Jordans, marijuana, cocaine, black powder. You can isolate the specific scent signature of an item, and then you teach the dog to find that.'”

Unfortunately, Larkin didn’t explain what COVID-19 smells like, citing proprietary technology. But apparently, an odor has been isolated that these dogs can detect.

Iscoe’s article didn’t indicate if the COVID-sniffing dogs have detected anything among fans entering AmericanAirlines Arena so far. However, he was shown how the dogs reacted to a test subject holding a gauze pad that gave off whatever coronavirus smells like. That was probably intended as a demonstration to the people in line as well as the reporter observing the dogs in action.

After getting to the NBA Finals last year, the Miami Heat have been one of this season’s most disappointing teams. As of this writing, the Heat are No. 10 in the Eastern Conference standings with a 15-17 record, but only a half-game out of first place in the Southeast Division (and the No. 8 seed) behind the Charlotte Hornets.

But if the Heat’s COVID-sniffing dogs actually detect some spectators who could infect or endanger their fellow fans, that could be as notable as anything the basketball team does on the court this year.

[The New Yorker]

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.