NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday he hoped the sport would not return to a "bubble" environment next season but admitted league officials were keeping all options on the table.
Speaking ahead of the opening game of the NBA Finals, Silver said plans for the new season remained opaque, with no fixed start date and uncertainty surrounding issues such as fans in stadiums.
The NBA is nearing the end of an unprecedented 2019-2020 season which was thrown into chaos when the coronavirus pandemic swept across North America and sent sport grinding to a halt in March.
The league restarted after a four-month hiatus in July, with 22 teams based at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, housed in a secure bubble aimed at shielding players and staff from Covid-19.
Silver told reporters on Wednesday he hoped the bubble format would be a one-off, but said it remained a possibility for next season.
"I'm hoping, ideally, that we would not return to a bubble environment, but it's something we're going to have to continue looking at," Silver said.
The league was monitoring the progress of the NFL, which kicked off earlier this month with teams playing in their home stadiums and operating under strict safety protocols.
"Will we able to operate as the NFL is operating right now?" Silver said.
"Will we need to operate in some kind of bubble or campus, and if we did maybe it's for a portion of the season? Can people continue and thrive in this environment?"
- Physical, mental toll -
Silver added that the league was also uncertain as to a possible start date, with officials anxious to ensure players received a proper off-season break.
"I've said previously that the earliest we would start at this point is Christmas," Silver said. "That's been a traditional tentpole date for the league. But it may come and go.
"The greater likelihood is we may start in January. But if we start in January it means training camps have begun three weeks earlier. And the players need a break physically and mentally. There's no question about it."
Allowing fans into stadiums next season would hinge on whether widespread rapid Covid-19 testing was available.
"As for fans, it's certainly our goal, but it's dependent on some additional advancements. Rapid testing may be the key here," he said.
"Based on everything I've read there's absolutely no chance that there will be a vaccine that is widely distributed before next season ....I'm hopeful that based on what we're learning we'll be able to have games with fans."
Silver cautioned that plans could change depending on the evolution of the pandemic in the United States.
"Nothing has really changed with this virus as far as I know," Silver said. "In fact in many states, cases are ticking back up again. There's predictions of combinations of flu and coronavirus season, so what that will mean?
"I'm hopeful that as we continue to study the advancements in testing, that rapid testing could make a difference in terms of getting fans in buildings, to help identify quickly a player who is positive."