Some have argued the league should resume the season at the earliest opportunity, play the remaining regular-season games and the playoffs and push back the beginning of next season. Others consider the option unfeasible and have advocated for the NBA resuming without regular-season games and a shortened playoff format, which would ensure the next campaign can start approximately as planned. Then there are those who believe the fairest option would be to call the season off altogether in the face of such an unprecedented event.
Last week, commissioner Adam Silver suggested all options were on the table, but did not give a precise timeline as to when the NBA may resume. The league originally suspended the league for 30 days, but subsequently stated it would follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggested events drawing crowds bigger than 50 people should be canceled or postponed until mid-May at least.
That left the NBA in a difficult situation, facing potentially enormous financial losses and a logistical nightmare. Even by resuming in mid-May, a timeline that looks extremely optimistic given the increasing death toll from COVID-19, and adopting a shortened format, the league would have struggled to conclude its season in time for the 2020 Olympic Games.
This week, however, Silver and the NBA were handed a major boost after the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 organizers took the unprecedented decision of postponing the Games until next year, following increasing pressure from athletes and national Olympic committees.
Provided the coronavirus outbreak can be sufficiently stemmed, shifting the Olympics to 2021 frees up the calendar this summer and removes a major obstacle standing between the NBA and its bid to complete the season.
A number of NBA stars were due to represent their countries in Tokyo, but with the Games not on the horizon for another 12 months they could complete the current season without facing the choice of competing for an NBA title or boarding a flight to Japan hoping to secure a gold medal.
As is the case with the NHL, the NBA season traditionally ends in mid-June, with summer traditionally baseball’s stomping ground before the NFL season kicks off as fall approaches.
Speaking last week, Silver suggested the possibility of playing NBA games in the summer to complete the season was firmly on the table.
“I will say that the conventional television calendar has changed so much, certainly since I got into this business,” the commissioner told ESPN’s SportsCenter. “Prime time means something very different than it used to now that people in essence carry televisions around with them in their pockets.
“The summer is viewed differently than it was historically from the television standpoint, so regardless of whether we had been going through all this, it’s something that the league office together with our teams has been spending a lot of time on.”
At the time the Olympics were still a seemingly insurmountable problem, but the IOC’s decision has since seen to that and may well give the NBA the chance of venturing down a path some team owners have advocated before.
Earlier this month, before the pandemic begun and before the league was even suspended, Atlanta Hawks’ CEO Steve Kooning told the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference it was time for the NBA to reconsider its schedule, advocating the season should begin in mid-December as opposed to mid-October, with the NBA Finals scheduled for August and the free agency taking place in September.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is among those supporting Kooning’s proposal and was quoted as saying by Sports Illustrated as saying that “the smart thing to do may be to play longer into the summer.”
According to Silver, 99 percent of fans watch NBA games via a platform, such as a TV or online, rather than in person. Tellingly, the commissioner added that because of their professional backgrounds, a number of team owners were very aware of that particular dynamic.
“We have a lot of our team owners who are technologists, media mavens by background, and so it’s something that committees of owners and league officials have been working on a lot, especially over the last year or so.”
Shifting the NBA season two months forward would prevent its opening weeks from jostling with the World Series for attention in October and would eliminate competition with the NFL throughout fall.
As things stand, there’s no date for a resumption of the current season and there’s no date for the beginning of the next. As the saying goes, however, every crisis is an opportunity.
Newsweek has contacted the NBA for comment.