Adam Silver held a call with the board of governors on Tuesday, after which we learned of his plan to make a decision on the fate of the 2019-20 NBA season within the next 2-4 weeks. All things considered, that’s a pretty significant step forward … in what direction, however, remains a mystery.
The most recent conversations around the league seem to be mostly positive, with both Las Vegas and Disney World in Orlando popping up as potential hosts. But now, it’s about figuring out the logistics of a safe return, including a general estimate of how many tests the league can justify using to frequently check the status of those in their playing “bubbles.”
Silver and his league office colleagues know the potential danger involved in staging some kind of return to play, so the question now is can they make the reward outweigh the risk?
The Athletic’s Sam Amick wrote about the many hard decisions the NBA must confront before making a definitive decision on the suspended NBA season, and it’s an absolute must-read:
"No one wants a body bag," as one agent put it.
An inside look at the NBA's coronavirus challenge: The risks, financials, considerations, political pitfalls and PR concerns that come with hosting pandemic playoffs, at @TheAthletichttps://t.co/hDbJ9JxDWo
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 15, 2020
As things stand, the incentive to return is clear. Amick reports one source has estimated a $900 million(!) loss for the NBA with no playoffs in 2020, and that’s from television revenue alone. A canceled season as a whole would lead to far greater losses, which would have a substantial ripple effect on several years to come.
But no matter the situation, the NBA simply cannot afford to put a single dollar over the well-being of its players, coaches, staff members, and whatever other workers would be needed for any given matchup. The players who have tested positive for the virus may have all recovered with little to no trouble at all, but who’s to say that’ll be the case moving forward? Not to mention, as Amick wisely notes, how can the league safely protect the older coaches around the league like the 69-year-old Mike D’Antoni or 58-year-old Doc Rivers? Perhaps they can, perhaps not, but that’s what they have to figure out – and with an actual, detailed plan, not just hope.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer. A move directly to the playoffs would result in fewer people to monitor, but that doesn’t really remove the broader risks from the equation (though it would certainly help with logistics). And while we’re on that track, Amick does write that Silver hinted at a possible jump-to-playoff format on his conference call with players: “Per sources, he implored teams that are out of playoff contention to take a holistic view on the matter and remain willing to assist for the greater good, so to speak.”
The NBA is walking a PR tight rope. Either they can be a building block for the nation’s professional sports leagues or begin a free-fall toward harsh criticism and backlash. Nothing about this decision-making process is easy, but I’m reassured to know they’re weighing literally every possible risk-reward out there. Under Silver, I expect nothing less.