Unlike the NFL’s “put our head down and plow ahead” strategy, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is going to gather every bit of information he can on the coronavirus and a return to play, try to build a consensus, and in the end not make a decision until he has to.
Which means don’t expect a decision on the return of this season until June, Silver told NBA players in a conference call Friday set up by the union.
The goal of the call was to give players an update on where things stand, and Silver was very transparent according to multiple people on the call. Silver also was honest that the situation is still fluid as the nation struggles with the coronavirus (more than 1.2 million cases and 62,000 deaths, with both numbers still climbing).
The plans Silver discussed would be to have fan-less bubbles — likely the West in Las Vegas and the East at the Disney resort in Orlando — where the league could host games (maybe regular season games, but Silver added he hoped for 7-game playoff series) that would be televised.
Shams Charania of The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN had other details. Here are the key points:
• No decision on a return to play — and what form that would take — needs to be made until June.
• If this season resumes, there will be no fans at the games.
• If this season resumes expect games at one or two locations, with Las Vegas and the Disney resort at Orlando the spots Silver mentioned (however, other sites are on the table).
• To return there would need to be extensive testing — enough to have daily tests of players, ideally, Silver said, more than 10,000 total tests — and the ability to have those without taking tests away from cities/states where they are needed.
• If testing is often enough, a player who tests positive could be isolated without having to shut everything down.
• If the league restarts, there will be at least three weeks of a training camp before games begin.
• Silver said all 30 owners are willing to bring teams back for regular season games (there have been concerns from owners of teams well out of the playoffs about the point of the extra expenses). However, he admitted that as the lockdown heads into the summer it may not be possible to play enough games for teams out of the playoffs to catch teams already in, and the league could go straight to the postseason.
• It’s possible there will be no fans at games at the start of — or maybe through much of — next season if there is not a widely-available vaccine. Silver tried to make this very clear to players.
• The league is taking an unprecedented financial hit, with 40 percent of league’s revenue coming from fans in the form of ticket sales and game revenue, not to mention merchandise sales.
• That, and the television games lost this season, mean both the players and owners are going to have to make financial sacrifices, with Silver emphasizing that hard decisions are coming and he wants to work with players on those. But not everyone is going to be happy.
There were plenty of questions from players on the logistics of going back to play, the opening of team workout facilities, and more. The players were curious.
Silver was open but emphasized right now there are no hard-and-fast answers. As of today, there are not enough tests to restart play, and there has been a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in parts of the country, all of which makes it smarter to wait before making any decision.
Silver tried to paint an optimistic but realistic picture — games may return this summer, but the league will not be back to “normal” for years. If ever. And the coming changes will not be painless.