If we’ve learned anything about COVID-19 and how it relates to the NBA, it’s that Commissioner Adam Silver’s initial 30-day timeframe to shut down the league was conservative. Just about anybody would gladly accept a month-long suspension if it meant games would be played on the other side of this hiatus.
But a little more than a week removed from the league’s new reality – the world’s new reality, really – indications from leading health authorities suggest the coronavirus pandemic will get worse in the United States before it gets better. That means the resumption of basketball isn’t close.
When that is or what form that takes, Silver isn’t even willing to hazard a guess.
What portion (any portion?) of the regular season will be completed? Would the league really dive right into the playoffs after months off? The latter seems reckless.
The latest league memo told teams that it had to close its practice and training facilities until further notice. Despite players’ sizable bank accounts, most players don’t have gyms in their homes.
When Silver gave a de-facto State of the Union on ESPN this past week, he brought up the country’s psyche and how desperate fans, or even just people, were for a diversion.
“One of the things we’ve been talking about are, are there conditions in which a group of players could compete — maybe it’s for a giant fundraiser or just the collective good of the people — where you take a subset of players and, is there a protocol where they can be tested and quarantined and isolated in some way, and they could compete against one another?” Silver asked.
“Because people are stuck at home, and I think they need a diversion,” he said. “They need to be entertained.”
The fact that a glorified All-Star game was even being considered is an indication of how far we are from meaningful games being played.
But before this season gets written off – a possibility Silver hasn’t ruled out – assume that the NBA will utilize the break as an opportunity. It was only last month that the NBA reinvented its All-Star Game format, transforming a boring, lifeless exhibition into a riveting fourth-quarter showcase.
At the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference in March, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin raised the possibility of the league shifting its calendar so that the season started in December and ran through August, instead of its current October-June format. Many deem Christmas the “unofficial” start of the season, anyway.
That iteration would see the NBA contend directly with Major League Baseball and avoid direct competition from the NFL, a potential boon for TV ratings. In that scenario, the draft, free agency and Summer League would theoretically be pushed back as well.
Whatever happens with the rest of this season’s games, the league’s suspension will afford the NBA a chance to reconsider its alignment. If playoffs do stretch into July and August, there is zero chance that NBA training camps would open in late September. Something would have to give.
“Possibly,” Silver said of the proposal. “Those are things we’re always talking about. … I will say the conventional television calendar has changed so much certainly since I got into this business.”
Whenever the NBA returns, there might be marked differences to the way it looks. Fans in the stands? Maybe. Shortened playoff series? Perhaps. But at least we’ll have our diversion.