NBA says it is talking with Disney about resuming season in Florida

Dan Woike
LA Times
A sellout crowd saw the 76ers face the Pistons on March 11 in Philadelphia, hours before the NBA season was put on hold. The league is in talks with Walt Disney Co. on a single-site scenario to resume play. <span class="copyright">(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)</span>
A sellout crowd saw the 76ers face the Pistons on March 11 in Philadelphia, hours before the NBA season was put on hold. The league is in talks with Walt Disney Co. on a single-site scenario to resume play. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

The NBA confirmed what’s been reported and speculated for the past week — that the league, along with the players union, is in discussions to restart the season near Orlando, Fla., this summer.

In a statement Saturday morning, league spokesman Mike Bass said the NBA and players are engaged in “exploratory conversations" with Walt Disney Co. about restarting the season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex as a single site.

In the statement, the NBA referred to the site as a “campus” that would contain “games, practices and housing.”

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that the appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place,” Bass said.

The plan to resume play is still fluid, with teams unsure who will actually be required to participate. While there’s still a desire to play as many games as possible by bringing all of the league’s 30 teams back, there are also concerns about forcing a team well out of the playoff hunt to go through strict quarantine and testing procedures during a month of training only to play a handful of games.

In recent weeks, the idea that a more select group of teams would return has gained momentum, though the mechanics of that are still iffy. The NBA could bring back only the 16 teams currently qualified for the playoffs. It could also conduct some sort of play-in tournament for the final spots in the playoff picture.

The NBA suspended operations on March 11 when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, with the results coming moments before a game between the Jazz and the Thunder was about to start in Oklahoma City.

Shortly after, the league shuttered all 30 practice facilities.

The NBA allowed teams to reopen those facilities this month, with the Lakers, followed by the Clippers, opening this past week. Teams still are working under tight guidelines in their facilities, with players limited to individual work with designated coaches in addition to strict health and sanitation guidelines.

The expectation is that those guidelines, at least in regard to the numbers of players who can work out at one time, could soon be loosened. The general sense is that teams would need four weeks to prepare for games in late July.

Before announcing Saturday that it is exploring ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex as a single site for games, the NBA considered a number of scenarios and cities. Las Vegas was at one time considered a viable option to host the league at MGM Resorts properties.

But in recent weeks, the Florida site became a front-runner.

"All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference on May 13. "What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won't let them operate, we'll find a place for you here in the state of Florida."

Disney World has more than 25 hotel options on its property, with eight classified as “deluxe” on the company’s website. Calls to Walt Disney World for comment were not returned.

Disney owns ABC and ESPN, two of the NBA’s top three broadcast partners.

The Wide World of Sports campus has three buildings that can be used for basketball, including a pair of indoor arenas and a multi-use space.

Major League Soccer is also in discussions with Disney about hosting its season on the campus.

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