- The 2019-2020 NBA regular season was suspended on March 12 after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19.
- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has set a tentative start date of December 1 for the 2020-2021 season.
- There is increasing skepticism that the target 2020-2021 start date is realistic.
After a weak kneed, indecisive effort toward getting the league restarted after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shutdown the NBA has found its footing. By all accounts, the NBA ‘bubble world’ in Orlando has been a big success. The games have been entertaining and competitive and with a few minor issues here and there they’ve been conducted in a safe and health conscious environment.
Now the bad news–players and fans might have to get used to the ‘bubble’ concept. Due to the United States’ continued bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic and other major logistical issues there’s a better than average chance that bubble basketball won’t end with the 2019-2020 season. One very influential voice is of the opinion that the entire 2020-2021 NBA season could be contested inside such a protected environment–in fact, NBA Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts is of the opinion that there might not be an option:
“If tomorrow looks like today, I don’t know how we say we can do it differently. If tomorrow looks like today, and today we all acknowledge — and this is not Michele talking, this is the league, together with the PA and our respective experts saying, ‘This is the way to do it’ — then that’s going to have to be the way to do it.”
Roberts made these comments in an interview with ESPN on July 28 but there’s no much to suggest that the situation has improved since then. The ‘bubble’ concept has definitely been effective with a limited number of COVID-19 cases among NBA players and none inside the Disney World camp. Since there’s a high probability that the US will continue to bungle their response to the pandemic playing the 2020-2021 season in a ‘bubble’ could be an inevitability.
This makes everything much more tricky for a number of reason not the least of which is the significant loss of revenue. Adam Silver had previously told the players that live game night income accounts for 40% of NBA revenues. That’s a big chunk and the uncertainty means that the league won’t be able to easily come up with a salary cap for next year. That makes it difficult for the teams to make plans in terms of personnel. One immediate result could be a delay to the start of league free agency which is set to begin on August 18.
That’s not the only serious issue–if there’s a delay in formulating a salary cap, a delay in free agency and a delay in teams’ ability to make personnel decision that could very likely mean that there will be a delay to the start of the regular season. The always dubious ‘unnamed sources’ have apparently told ESPN that a December 1 start could be a pipe dream:
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has been publicly and privately skeptical that the league will start next season on its tentative opening night of Dec. 1. Sources said the union has privately suggested to players that the season could start sometime later that month — or even in January or February.
There is a certain degree of disingenuity in this report. There have been other sources that have speculated–and in some case even encouraged–the NBA to start their season on Christmas Day, December 25. The league has made the Christmas Day games a ‘holiday showcase’ and although it was written long before the coronavirus pandemic took hold this USA TODAY observation in a preview of the 2019 games seems downright psychic (emphasis added):
The NBA campaign officially started two months ago, but it’s said the season really starts on Christmas Day. As football season enters the stretch run, more fans tune in to the NBA, and it starts with the league’s annual holiday showcase.
In other words, the start of the league season could be ‘pushed back’ by nearly a month by design. Although much depends on how the rest of the sports world deals with starting their next season amid the pandemic a NBA start on Christmas day makes a lot of the sense. As of July 29, the ‘party line’ of the NBA was that they’d work toward getting fans in the building next season though they certainly have contingency plans if that isn’t possible.