The NBA is officially, officially back after the league and the NBPA issued a joint statement announcing the finalization of a “comprehensive plan” for a July 30 restart of the 2019-20 season.
“The National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Players Association announced today that they have finalized a comprehensive plan for a July 30 restart to the 2019-20 season, which includes stringent health and safety protocols, a single-site campus at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and the goal of taking collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice,” part of the league’s press release read.
This is a big, sweeping statement from the NBA and one that leaves questions about the execution on these principles.
As such, here’s a look at the three biggest questions that remain from the NBA and NBPA’s restart announcement.
What does the rising cases in cases of COVID-19 in Florida mean for the NBA’s restart?
On Friday, nearly 9,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the state of Florida a soaring new single-day record high of positive tests in the state that the NBA is primed to make a return to.
Despite this, the NBA is feeling confident that once teams make their way into the Disney bubble, they will be in an environment as safe – or safer – than anywhere else in the world.
“The answer is yes, the level of concern has increased – not just because of the increased levels in Florida, but throughout the country,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a conference call Friday when asked if he was concerned about Florida’s rapidly growing coronavirus case count. “At least today, I believe, 29 of the 50 states have an increased number of cases. Of course, we designed our campus, in essence, to isolate ourselves from whatever the level of cases was in the surrounding community.
“But since we designed our initial protocol, we are continuing to work with Disney on the testing of at least a subset of their employees that could potentially be in the same room as our players, and anyone else who’s tested daily on our campus. So we are satisfied that, once we work through those additional measures with Disney, we will continue to have a safe setting for us to resume our season.”
This confidence Silver comes from a resignation of the situation his league, and the world, faces at the moment. That, as he put it, “COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future.”
“My ultimate conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus, and that this is what we’re gonna be living with for the foreseeable future – which is why we designed the campus the way we did,” said Silver. “And so it’s a closed network, and while it’s not impermeable, we are, in essence, protected from cases around us. At least, that’s the model.
“So for those reasons, we’re still very comfortable being in Orlando.”
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Given the circumstances what they are, the commissioner’s rationale seems quite sound, and when pressed what would happen if a superstar player, in particular, were to test positive what would happen, to the rest of the league, he confirmed that the league wouldn’t shut down.
“The notion would be that if we had a single player test positive, frankly, whether that player was an all-star or a journeyman, that player would then go into quarantine,” said Silver. “We would then be tracking any players or other personnel that that player had been in contact with, and even potentially supplement the daily testing just to ensure that others have not been contaminated, but then we would continue.
“That team would be down a man, and we would treat that positive test as we would an injury during the season, and so we would not delay the continuation of the playoffs.”
If, however, there ends up being a more widespread infection within the bubble, Silver admitted the league might have to look into shutting down.
“If we were to have significant spread of coronavirus through our community, that ultimately might lead us to stopping,” he said.
That will be a worst-case scenario, of course, as the NBA likely has far too much financially to lose, if they were to pull the plug on the season again, meaning there will probably have to be a mini pandemic spreading throughout Disney World in order for the NBA to stop this restart plan when it finally gets going.
How does the NBA plan to meet its goal of finding ways to address racial inequality?
Among the most interesting aspects of the NBA’s restart plan was the line in the press release that read, “the goal of the season restart will be to find tangible and sustainable ways to address racial inequality across the country.”
This is obviously a positive statement to make and certainly ticks off the box that the NBA will be committed to attempting to make social change, but there’s been no specifics on how exactly the league will be doing this.
In the release, there’s mention of the NBA and NBPA having “discussed strategies to increase Black representation across the NBA and its teams, ensure greater inclusion of Black-owned and operated businesses across NBA business activities, and form an NBA foundation to expand educational and economic development opportunities across the Black community.”
Again, this all sounds like good stuff, but it doesn’t address what the players and league will be looking to do while in the Disney bubble, and when asked about specifics on this matter both NBPA president, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard, Chris Paul and NBPA executive director Michelle Roberts were vague about details – perhaps intentionally.
“I don’t want to blow the lead-up so I won’t tell you specifically, but it’s a special opportunity for our players to both learn and teach and, of course, promote and advance,” said Roberts on the same conference call as Silver Friday. “In addition to playing basketball, I think there’s going to be some historical things being done by our players, for our players and with our players and engaging the community at the same time. This is going to be truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and to the extent, this horrific virus and these awful killings have a silver lining, I think this is it.”
Added Paul: “Yeah, a lot of what Michele said. I think the thing for us as players and the league is like we all understand, too, like I said, we’re aware we’re not just basketball players. …
“We also understand how powerful our voice is, and so even if we’re back to playing, we understand that our voice can still be heard, our message can still be screamed loud and clear on an unbelievable platform, so just know that you’re going to continue to hear us. Just know that. It’s never a shut-up-and-dribble situation. You’re going to continue to hear us and see us.”
As Roberts suggested, there does appear to be a larger plan in place, but it seems it isn’t ready to be made public just yet.
Whatever it is, as both Roberts and Paul said, the players and the league know the world will be watching, and so in the meantime, we’ll be waiting in eager anticipation.
How will players be affected by the long suspension of the season?
Lastly, though it’s a point that’s probably been buried because of the greater concerns – such as those made above – it’s still worthwhile wondering how players will be impacted by such a long layoff?
More specifically, how will their play be impacted by a layoff in the midst of a global pandemic when a lot of them haven’t been able to get in the kind of work they need to stay sharp?
Remember, for modern NBA players this kind of layoff is pretty much unprecedented because even during the off-season they probably only take a month off, at most, before they’re off playing in summer leagues and working out and dropping in for high-level open runs again.
In this case, while some players may have been able to get a sweat on in an empty gym or have managed to make do at home, access to top-level training facilities have been limited at most and you have to wonder how good a condition physically everyone will be – even with a pre-restart training camp.
This is a concern because if guys aren’t physically ready to play NBA basketball injury risk increases exponentially, not to mention the overall quality of play in the league could drop.
And it isn’t just players’ physical well-being that’s worrisome in regards to this NBA restart plan, their mental health should also be taken into consideration as well because, as Paul said, while COVID-19 is certainly a concern, front of mind for most players will be dealing with the isolation and loneliness they’re bound to feel while in the bubble.
“That’s a huge deal as far as us going down to play is the mental health, and so that is the first thing in all of our brains are how do we deal with that, because just speaking for me in general, and I know there are situations real close to mine, I’m in Oklahoma now and I’m with my wife and my kids and spending time with them a little bit before I go,” said Paul. “Mental health is real, and being in this situation, we’re going to be trying to come up with any ideas that anyone has to try to make sure guys are healthy in that aspect of their life.”
Both in body and mind players need to be healthy to play their best, and, unfortunately, this restart could threaten both.