As the coronavirus pandemic continues, so does the NBA’s uncertainty.
The league remains shut down ever since that fateful night Rudy Gobert’s test came back positive, and no one really seems to know when it will be coming back. Plenty of ideas have been floated on how and where the league can play while staying safe from COVID-19, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver has held off on making any decisions until May 1.
That date has now arrived, and the NBA has to confront where it goes from here with much of the country still shut down by the pandemic. The league recently told teams they could re-open facilities if allowed by local governments, but even that led to pushback and a delay of the date.
Whenever the NBA does seriously consider playing games again, it will reportedly have a very uncomfortable decision to make.
The NBA is going to need a lot of tests if it wants to play games
According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA expects to need somewhere around 15,000 coronavirus tests in order to safely begin playing games again.
That number would roughly cover the amount needed to regularly test the hundreds of people playing and working games in quarantine from beginning to end of the resumed season. ESPN reports that discussions have included teams keeping a range of 30-35 personnel on site, including players.
Where it gets tricky for the NBA is that while 15,000 sounds like a lot of tests, it’s still attainable when you are a billion-dollar business. ESPN reports that several manufacturers could provide the NBA the tests it needs.
However, when you consider who the NBA might be outbidding or buying over for the tests — perhaps governments or essential services that need them — the idea of using them to stage basketball games becomes questionable unless the American public already has mass access to tests.
Per ESPN, Silver has insisted he can’t abide his league using a high volume tests when they are still in high demand. Silver has said he told President Donald Trump that sports leagues would love to be part of the movement to restart the economy, but he has also emphasized the importance of data in making the decision.
The NBA faced a significant backlash when it emerged that 60 percent of the state of Oklahoma’s daily coronavirus testing capacity was used to test the Utah Jazz after Gobert’s positive test. In the wake of that, ESPN reports that the NBA has prohibited teams from using tests on players unless they have COVID-19 symptoms.
In order to stay safe while playing games in isolation, the NBA will likely need to test personnel even when not displaying symptoms, because of the potentially catastrophic consequences if an asymptomatic player goes unchecked.
The good news is that the supply of coronavirus tests is rising in some areas. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday that the city is offering free tests to all its residents at various testing sites.
So the NBA’s choices are between using tests to play games despite a remaining public need, play games without regular testing or wait until testing is available enough that acquiring 15,000 tests doesn’t take them out of the hands of people who need them. It’s hard to see the NBA choosing anything but the latter option.
What would the NBA’s return to action look like?
Whenever the NBA does return, the one thing for sure is that it’s not going to look normal.
For starters, don’t expect to see any spectators at games for quite some time, possibly into next year. Games will likely be played in isolated gyms, with players and other staff shuttling between games and isolated hotels.
ESPN reports that the league is discussing such a set-up in Las Vegas, with the MGM Grand pitching a plan to host the NBA and possibly the WNBA. Team practice facilities have also reportedly been discussed, and Disney World in Orlando — the case for which was recently laid out by Keith Smith for Yahoo Sports — has reportedly gained momentum.
As for a timeline, there is reportedly support for the league starting next season in December and extending it into late July or August. That would allow for the league to significantly delay the end of this year’s season.
Whether the league finishes out its regular season or goes straight to a possibly shortened playoffs likely depends on when the league can start playing games again. Steve Kerr, head coach of the 15-50 Golden State Warriors, has already said he feels his team has played its last game of the season.
As games are played without fans, they could reportedly be televised via robotic cameras with play-by-play and color commentators calling games remotely.
Clearly, it’s going to be a long time before tuning into an NBA game isn’t a surreal experience.
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