Acknowledging that no option would have been risk-free during a pandemic, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Friday that the concern shared by the league and its players surrounding next month’s restart of the season is rising as coronavirus cases in Florida keep climbing.
That said, the league and the National Basketball Players Association are moving forward — finalizing the deal that will bring the game back and see teams start arriving at the Disney campus near Orlando, Fla., in less than two weeks.
The defending champion Toronto Raptors will resume their season on Aug. 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Raptors, along with the NBA, announced their revised eight-game schedule on Friday.
Under the format for the restart, the 22 participating teams will have eight “seeding games,” selected from their remaining regular-season matchups.
Toronto will also play Miami, Orlando, Boston, Memphis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Denver, with the seeding games concluding by Aug. 14.
All games will be played at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida with no fans in attendance.
The Raptors held down the second seed in the Eastern Conference when play was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
RAPTORS SEEDING SCHEDULE IN THE BUBBLE<br><br>Start against the Lakers. Not an easy schedule at all. <a href=”https://t.co/I0uFyF7RTl”>pic.twitter.com/I0uFyF7RTl</a>
The NBA’s reopening night on July 31 will see New Orleans against Utah and the Clippers versus the Lakers.
Many of the details of the return-to-play agreement were already known: that “stringent health and safety protocols” would be in place for the participating teams, that no fans will be present and that games will be held in three different arenas at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.
But when those protocols were completed, the Orange County, Fla., area — which includes Orlando — had seen a five per cent rate of positive coronavirus tests over the preceding 10 days. In the 10 days that have followed, the rate of positive tests there has soared to just over 15 per cent.
“We ultimately believe it will be safer on our campus than outside it,” Silver said Friday afternoon. “But the signal we are sending is this is definitely not business as usual. This is far from an ideal way to finish our season, and it will require tremendous sacrifices from all those involved.”
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Silver said the league is working with Disney to test at least some of its on-site employees who could be in the same room as NBA players, which he believes will make the setting even safer.
Once players get to Disney, they will be tested daily. Testing is currently in an every-other-day mandatory phase for the teams set to participate in the restarted season. The results from Tuesday’s first 302 tests showed that 16 players were positive for the virus.
“I think one would have been concerning,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said. “But, God forgive me, I was frankly to some extent relieved that the number was not higher…. If nothing else, it told me that the great majority of our players have been doing exactly what they should have been doing to keep themselves safe.”
Silver said it may be possible that, if there was a significant spread of the virus within the Disney campus, “that might lead us to stopping.” He said the league has not precisely concluded what number of positive tests it would take to shut down the season once it resumes, and he continues working with the players and health officials to determine what that number should be.
Social justice a priority
The league and the union announced earlier this week that addressing racial issues and inequality in the country will be a priority during the restarted season. Silver, Roberts and others — including union president Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder — stressed Friday that those matters will be an extremely critical component of what happens at Disney, both on and off the floor.
While dealing with the plans for pulling off a restarted season and then playing a full post-season during a pandemic, the league and the union have had numerous meetings to discuss options for how to address issues such as the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the ongoing problem of police brutality and furthering the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We all understand how powerful our voice is,” Paul said. “Even if we’re back to playing, our voice can still be heard … on an unbelievable platform. You’re going to continue to hear us. It’s never a `shut up and dribble’ situation. You’re going to continue to hear us.”
Silver said the NBA sees itself as a key partner to the messages that players want to be seen and heard at Disney during a time of what he called enormous social unrest.
“We may be the most uniquely qualified organization in the world to effect change,” Silver said, noting that the league’s players are some of the best-known Black personalities on the planet.
The NBA suspended its season on March 11 because of the virus. It took the league more than three months just to get to this point, and it would seem very unlikely that once teams get into what the league hopes is a secure environment at Disney, issues such as more positive tests wouldn’t be a factor.
There are countless business reasons to play, with massive revenue streams at stake for players, the league and the NBA’s media partners — Disney included. And Silver acknowledged that even though the league “hasn’t worked through every scenario” regarding the possibility of on-site positive tests at Disney, he believes coming back is the best move.
“Ultimately, whether it’s fighting racism or a pandemic, we’re coming back because sports matter in our society,” Silver said. “They bring people together when we need it the most and they can show how we can balance public health and economic necessity.”