With America on the verge of becoming the international epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic, it almost seems disrespectful to discuss whether the league should even consider resuming the 2020 NBA season and playoffs.
But just as winning the battle against Covid-19 will ultimately depend on smart government planning and execution, the future of the NBA as a thriving professional sport could well depend on the strategies they adopt.
While they may have no choice but to cancel the 2020 season, the NBA still has a responsibility to the players, employees, and fans who depend on the league to consider their options to resume the season and the playoffs.
Hopefully, we’ll eventually defeat the coronavirus, stay-in-place restrictions will be lifted, businesses will reopen, people will go back to work, and life will slowly return to a new normal. While the pandemic may linger, chances are much of the population will have contracted and become immune to the virus, enhanced and expanded testing will enable us to control the spread, and there will be a concerted worldwide effort to restart our economies.
To be ready when that happens, here are the five critical questions the NBA must answer before they can resume the 2020 season and playoffs:
1. Why Finish the Season?
The announcement that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus and the quick decision to suspend the 2019–20 NBA season were in many ways the first shots fired in the worldwide war to contain this pandemic. When the worst is over and America has dodged an apocalyptic event, the NBA could once again be the leader in showing the world how to move on and help return us to some form on normalcy by continuing the season.
While the games would likely not be in front of fans and the thousands of workers whose livelihoods depend on the NBA would not be able to go back to work, finishing the season could be a cathartic first step to recovery.
2. When Would Play Resume?
The next two months will probably give us a good indication of how deadly and how long this pandemic will last. Because the virus is so contagious, we should see the apex of the curve for infections and deaths the next 30 days. That’s assuming the stay-in-place restrictions that now cover over two hundred million Americans work as hoped and our government is able to catch up with the need for enhanced and expanded testing for the virus.
Should the above scenario begin to materialize, the NBA could then start to lay out plans to resume the season sometime in mid to late June, with an abbreviated regular season and playoffs culminating in the NBA Finals.
3. How to Keep Players Safe?
The challenge the league faces if they want to resume the season in mid to late June is making sure every player is free of the coronavirus when the season resumes. That can only be accomplished via extensive repetitive testing and strictly enforced quarantine of players to prevent new infections. Since several players have already tested positive, those players are going to have to be proven to be free of the virus before being allowed to participate.
To resume the season in mid to late June means players will need to be tested and coronavirus free at the end of May and then quarantined until the season and playoffs are over to eliminate the risk of contamination.
4. How to Compress Season?
If quarantining players is the only way to keeping them safe, then the league needs to reduce the number of games left in the regular season and the playoffs. Finishing the regular season would require a month and the full playoffs two months. There’s no way the league could quarantine players for three months, even if they were to include their families. Realistically, the league needs to compress the season and playoffs to less than a month.
The NBA should cut the regular season to a few games to get teams in shape and then run a single elimination tournament to find two teams to meet the Lakers and Bucks in the Conference Finals, followed by the NBA Finals.
5. Where to Play the Games?
By playing the the rest of the season and playoffs in a single venue like Las Vegas, the NBA can reduce travel time, simplify quarantining players, and compress the schedule and finish the 2020 season in less than a month. There’s simply no way to accomplish this in multiple venues. The complex logistics of quarantining players and their families for almost a month to ensure no players get infected will be challenging even in a single city.
The games would of course be played in empty arenas without fans but at least they would be played and Conference and Finals champions crowned. Right now, that’s the best we can hope for as Lakers and NBA fans.
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