It’s a major gamble dotted with risks, but the NBA is back
All the details have yet to be ironed out, and in the time between now and July 31 there will be room to complain, but the NBA has been waiting for the right moment to proclaim its league is back.
Thursday, following an expected vote of support by the league’s Board of Governors to commissioner Adam Silver’s 22-team plan, the NBA will be able to breathe a sigh of relief in some form after being on the bench for 85 days.
Some teams and fan bases won’t be happy about certain circumstances, but basketball is back.
Some will claim it’s all about the dollar, dollar bill, y’all, and of course it is. But basketball is back.
The NBA is walking the delicate line of trying to fulfill its business interests with the TV contracts and amount of regular-season games, preserving the integrity of the actual product and providing a safe environment for everyone at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
It’s important to remember, though: We’re still in a pandemic and every interaction carries a risk to spread a virus there’s no vaccine for — and there won’t be one available for a long time. The league is adding what some would call unnecessary risk that will be called out if, heaven forbid, a star gets infected and has to sit out for an extended stretch.
Unforeseen circumstances have to be factored in as we evaluate a plan to return, and getting to this point is impressive in itself when factoring in the muck Major League Baseball is in with its players and the fantasy world the NFL routinely promotes to its fans.
Being pragmatic, safe and making money aren’t often on parallel tracks, so it won’t necessarily feel good after the euphoria wears off.
Basketball being back, that feels good in the moment because we’re all so miserable. A pandemic that’s kept the world sidelined for months followed by a recession followed by the reminder the bubble we operate in isn’t as grand as we believe it to be has made sports fans yearn for the fantasy of fantasy — the ability to worry about something trivial like sports.
Utilizing the play-in idea for the final playoff spot — the eighth- and ninth-seeded teams will play a single-double elimination for the right to face the first seed — is a wrinkle in a system that hasn’t seen any modifications since the first round went to seven games in 2003.
It wouldn’t be fair, the NBA would say, to start the 16-team playoff because of the imbalanced schedule, even with the added risk of infection. Restarting the season with 30 teams was never a viable option, so it was clever to present it even with this setup being the optimal goal as a compromise of sorts.
It’s clever, too, adding the potential for Zion Williamson in the playoffs or the Spurs continuing their playoff streak or new blood like the Phoenix Suns or Sacramento Kings crashing the party.
The NBA thrives off star power and the fans won’t feel so bad about indulging in it, because, tacitly, we all can admit we’re attracted to star power.
History will be at stake, for the stars and star makers. Silver has curried plenty of favor by making the players an equal partner as opposed to being a dictator, and the public trust he’s earned almost obscures the obvious financial ground that could be made up if this goes well.
LeBron James is going for another title — remember those trivial conversations? — as he hopes the discussion surrounding his place in the pantheon of all-time athletes gets cemented further.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has much to play for, as well as his franchise having something to show. Kawhi Leonard does, too.
To paraphrase the late Della Reese in “Harlem Nights,” we were all geared up for hash but corona came and we couldn’t get that hash.
Assuming — and it’s a big assumption and a big gamble by all parties involved — that this goes off and makes it to the finish line, however awkward it may look and feel, we’ll finally get that hash.
The NBA is back.
Hopefully, to stay.
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