While we’re still a month or two away from a decision, there are optimistic signs public health measures like shelter-in-place and social distancing may have given the NBA hope they may be able to resume the 2019–20 season.
While we’re not out of the woods yet and are are surely facing a new normal until we have a vaccine to protect people, there are reasons to believe we’ve been able to flatten the curve and avoid the original dystopian predictions. With shelter-in-place and social distancing lowering projected infections and deaths, the time’s come to begin making realistic plans how to fight our way out of this pandemic, restart our economy, and win back our lives.
Whether we’re talking about employees going back to work, kids going back to school, or people returning to restaurants, theaters, or sporting events, we’re probably talking about a long, slowly evolving, multiple year process. Social distancing is likely to remain with seating in bars and restaurants and number of customers allowed in stores and shops limited accordingly. In fact, it could be years before we see large crowds at sporting events again.
However, the encouraging signs we’ve flattened the coronavirus curve and urgency by state and federal governments to get the country started on the road to recovery bode well for professional sports leagues to resume play. Even leading public health experts like the esteemed Dr. Anthony Fauci have chimed in that playing games without fans is how professional sports leagues could help the country get started adjusting to the new normal.
So what do the prospects for the NBA resuming the 2019–20 season look like right now? To begin, we’re still probably at least a month away from having enough data from which to make a decision to resume the season. The good news, however, is some of the parameters that will determine whether and how the season could be resumed are starting to take shape as the NBA and the players’ association continue to explore possible options.
First, considering most players have not had access to facilities to maintain conditioning, the biggest non-coronavirus concern is determining how much time players will need to get back into shape to safely play games. There now appears to be a league-wide consensus that players will need at least 25 days to get ready to play games to avoid risking major injuries, 11 days of individual workouts followed by 14 days of full team workouts.
Second, there also seems to be a consensus the league needs to complete the season by having all teams play at least 70 games, that being the magic number guaranteed by the NBA to its national and local television partners. Right now, most teams have played 64 to 66 games with the Lakers’ 63 being the least and the Mavs’ and Hawks’ 67 being the most, which means NBA teams needing to play between 3 to 7 more games to reach 70 games.
Third, because there’s no way the games are going to be played before live crowds, there’s a consensus remaining regular season and playoff games will have to be played at a central location like Las Vegas or the Bahama. Limiting games to a central venue is realistically the only way to reduce travel time and enable controlled isolation and testing of players and possibly their families to insure nobody gets infected or spreads the virus.
Fourth, because the NBA, like every pro sports league, is going to face major financial challenges getting live fans to return to arenas, their new normal is going to have to become maximizing television and streaming revenues. That means making sure they generate as much broadcasting revenue as possible once they resume the regular season, which means the league will likely stick with the traditional best of seven format for the NBA playoffs.
While we still have a long way to go and testing and treatment challenges to win the war against the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important for our mental health and wellness to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whether it’s being able to safely go for a run, meet friends for dinner, go back to work, school, or shopping, or just watch the Lakers play the Bucks in the NBA Finals, we desperately need be able to return to that new normal.
For the first time in a long and arduous six to eight weeks of dread and dismay, there are signs we’ve turned the corner and may finally be able to envision our hopes and prayers being answered and better days coming.