We’re all missing sports right now, yeah?
And so, we’re all trying to fill the void however possible, whether it be watching rebroadcasts of old games, tuning in to documentaries, settling for lesser “sporting” competitions, like say, the marbles, stone-skipping, and sign-spinning events brought to us over the weekend via ESPN’s latest “The Ocho” homage to the 2004 film “Dodgeball.”
It leaves a little something to be desired, doesn’t it? Mostly, it leaves us all wondering when we can dare to dream of real sports returning.
We all want to see the Utah Jazz play the remaining 18 games of their regular season, plus the playoffs beyond that, right?
The thing is, with the coronavirus pandemic likely to get worse before it gets better, clearly there is nothing imminent on the sports horizon. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending no gatherings of 50 people or more for at least the next two months, it’s not practical to stage games at all during that period. Furthermore, that two-month timeline may be exceedingly optimistic.
So where does that leave us? What options are we realistically looking at?
In an interview with ESPN last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said there were three considerations for resuming the season being evaluated: 1. Restarting the league and proceeding as close to normally as possible, with thousands of fans in the arenas. 2. The possibility of restarting games and staging them without fans. 3. Skipping the remaining games scheduled, and instead getting a select group of players to participate in an abbreviated tournament, whether it be 5-on-5, 3-on-3, 2-on-2 … even 1-on-1?
There is simply too much unknown at the moment, too many variables in play to have any rational sense of which may prove the most viable option.
For instance …
Realistically, the most optimistic timeline for resuming play is to start up somewhere between mid-May and late-June. Does such a timeline make it feasible to have every team finish on the roughly 15 to 20 regular-season games remaining on its schedule, then to follow up with four rounds of best-of-seven playoff series?
In such a scenario, the league would be wrapping up some time in late July or August. That creates a bunch of other issues, such as postponing the NBA draft and free agency; potentially doing away with Summer League play; then, of course, postponing the start of the 2020-21 season (to start at Christmas, perhaps?) in order to provide a sufficient offseason break.
Does the league want all of that? It might prove an intriguing experiment for future scheduling, after all. Even if that is the case, though, there are other considerations, such as the possibility that these arenas likely have future dates booked for concerts, conventions, et cetera. How does the league work around that?
Given all of those potential impediments, it makes sense to consider other options. Perhaps the league will reduce the number of games left. Or simply scrap the remainder of the regular season and proceed directly to postseason play. There is a pretty clear delineation between Nos. 8 and 9 in both conferences at present after all, though, presumably, the Blazers, Pelicans, Kings and Spurs would all like to think they’d have a chance to catch the Grizzlies for the West’s final spot.
Beyond that, every consideration must be on the table: going to a best-of-five series in the first round? In every round? Maybe going best-of-three? Or NCAA Tournament-style single-game elimination?
And since “tournament” was invoked, what about that possibility? While Silver brought up the idea of a tourney to raise money, others have expanded the scope to deciding a league champion.
Almost two weeks ago, Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie proposed on social media a leaguewide, 28-team tournament format: “Top four seeds get a bye. Teams 27, 28, 29, 30 have the neutral site play-in games March Madness-style in a best-of-three [series]. Then the round of 28 is best-of-five. And then the round of 16, et cetera, proceeds as usual!”
There is also due consideration being given to the most depressing but potentially most realistic option of all: That it’s simply unfeasible, impractical, and, furthermore, dangerous to try to conclude this season.
That, clearly, is not Silver’s preferred outcome. He spoke about the short lifespan of an NBA player’s career (about 4.5 years, on average); he invoked the potential for a resumed NBA season to help spark the flagging U.S. economy, noting that, “Shutting down the economy is a public health matter as well.”
And yet …
With COVID-19 testing still limited, with shelter-in-place edicts popping up throughout the country, with the scope of the domestic pandemic expected to grow exponentially in the near future, it may yet prove to be the most prudent course of action to simply shut it all down.
“I don’t think the NBA will come back this season. It just seems very pie in the sky to me,” wrote Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated. “It’s great that social distancing measures are increasing rapidly across the country, but until coronavirus testing capacity dramatically improves, I think it’s going to be a very long time until the NBA returns.”
It would be a first for the league — the NBA has never not crowned a season champion in its history. It would not be wholly unprecedented, though — there was no MLB champ in 1994, and no NHL champ in 2005. True, those situations were on account of labor disputes and work stoppages. Then again, isn’t a public health crisis at least as good a reason to shut it all down?
Again, though, nothing is definitive at the moment. So in the meantime, hope and pray the Tom Brady Super Bowl collection and WrestleMania re-runs can get you through.