The NBA is as eager as any organization, sports or otherwise, to get back to business as quickly as possible in the coronavirus era. But even as questions loom about the best way to move forward, commissioner Adam Silver and his lieutenants are harnessing, teaming the public’s safety right alongside that ambition to get started again.
For good reason, beyond the humanity of it all.
If the league were too quick to press on, putting business interests ahead of the health of its players, coaches, personnel, fans or anyone else necessary in the production of games, it could send the whole endeavor into a damaging spiral that would continue spinning not just through whatever hopes it has for what’s left of this season and postseason, but also into next season, as well. And perhaps beyond that.
Better to be patient, to handle this properly now, proceeding with prudence, guided by the best information available, information that seems to be accumulating day by day, week by week, from the most qualified sources at hand, using every metric at the league’s disposal to steer the thing forward.
It’s understood: people are hurting, business is stagnant, collateral workers and their financials are suffering.
But human beings, their lives, are not expendable. Half the country has some underlying medical condition. In the neighborhood of 70 million Americans are 60 and over. The expanse of the coronavirus has reached beyond just those groups.
The NBA knows this, thankfully. And it has acted accordingly, from the beginning, from the night the Utah Jazz were at the center not just of the sports world, but of the world world, when two of its players tested positive for COVID-19.
Packing everything away at that moment, putting the games and the season and the league in a suspended state was the right thing to do, setting an example certainly for the rest of the country and in lands far beyond.
That move saved lives.
And as certain corners unwisely apply pressure for the NBA and other leagues and other businesses to fully open up again, invoking — bastardizing — the name of freedom in their cries, the league is standing firm.
It has continued to be a bastion of sound reason.
It has taken everything into consideration, including projections by medical folks that there likely will be a second wave of COVID-19 in the months ahead.
The NBA has not closed its eyes, however, to brainstorming for all kinds of potential appropriate routes to take in the future, near and far. League leadership is looking at the possibility of its teams opening their practice facilities next month, under careful conditions, so that players — some of whom not only have been sedentary, but haven’t even touched a basketball for the better part of two months — have an opportunity to edge toward getting themselves back into shape.
Even if qualified experts advised the league that the environment was now safe, nobody wants to see the best basketball players on the planet take to playing again with an extra 15 hanging on their waistlines. That’s not a matter of aesthetics, it’s a matter of avoiding injury. It would require a minimum of two weeks, and probably more, for the league’s athletes to recover and restore and prepare.
It’s more complicated than just that, too. There’s the issue of competitive fairness and balance in opening up those facilities, some of which are in states and cities that remain under directives to isolate. If, say, the Houston Rockets and the Milwaukee Bucks could condition and practice, but the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics could not, based on the aforementioned directives, that would make whatever’s left of the season, if anything, competitively inequitable.
Until there’s uniform operating conditions, restarting play, having games, will be impossible.
Options have been put on the table — everything from assembling teams in a bubble in a single location and having them play against each other with only necessary personnel on hand and no fans in the stands, TV cameras beaming the action to the outside world, to organizing temporary teams in pickup fashion.
One thing is sure, no matter what course the virus takes, no matter what the science instructs the NBA to do, if the competition continues where it is deemed safe for those involved: The champion of the 2020 NBA season, whatever shape that postseason takes, will be anything but traditional, anything but standardized, anything but legitimate.
It will be truncated. It will be different. It will require an asterisk. It will be twisted and unusual and cheapened.
But at least it will be.
Much to the NBA’s credit, though, only if the questions are logically, thoroughly, responsibly answered and the conditions are right.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.