When the NBA held a vote with the Board of Governors and then the National Basketball Players Association last week and overwhelmingly approved the plan put forth by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, an official announcement was expected this week. But the path to a restart of the NBA season might not be so simple.
The votes last week — 29-1 by the Board of Governors and 28-0 by the NBPA executive committee — seemed to indicate that everyone was on the same page with the plan, which Silver had communicated with both groups to try to find a safe way back. But multiple reports Friday indicated that a growing number of players are unhappy with the thought of heading back.
According to Bleacher Report, Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who was not going to play in the return this season as he continues to rehabilitate from shoulder surgery, was a prime mover in organizing a Zoom call for Friday night that was expected to include as many as 200 players. The topics were the safety of the players in a bubblelike environment at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, as well as the optics of returning to play while the country is still responding to the death of George Floyd.
While the league is moving toward completing a plan, which could come as soon as this weekend, according to one league source, the reality is that even if there is cooperation on all sides, there is no simple path back from the suspended season.
The league shut down operations after the games of March 11 when the first player tested positive for COVID-19. While the country has begun to open up in phases, there has been a resurgence of the virus, including in Florida. The state announced 1,902 new cases Friday, the second-highest number in a single day since the pandemic began.
Even before the virus began to pick up steam again, players were questioning the notion of being put in this bubble, unable to leave, possibly for more than three months. ESPN reported Friday that players are expected to return to their teams by June 22, with those who are coming from outside the country expected a week earlier, and training camps for the 22 teams in action are to begin July 15.
The season would resume July 30 and the play-in tournaments would be Aug. 15 and 16 if necessary, with playoffs starting the next day. Families and guests of players and staff would not be allowed on site until Aug. 30. The last possible date for the NBA Finals would be Oct. 13, with the league moving the start date of the season up one day and the possible date of a Game 7 for the Finals back one day, in both cases to avoid television conflicts.
But it’s not just the players taking a risk. NBC Sports reported that Eric Clinton, president of Disney’s labor union, Unite Here Local 362, which represents custodians and ride operators, said it is “unlikely” that staffers would be subject to daily testing and quarantine measures like NBA players. Instead, Disney staff would be required to wear a mask and be subject to temperature checks before starting their work day.
Carmelo Anthony is one of the only players to openly put his name to the concerns.
“As far as actually playing and going back down into Orlando, I’m still up in the air a little bit because I really don’t, we don’t have all the details,” the former Knick and current Portland Trail Blazer said on TNT. “We don’t know a lot of information, so until we have that, it’s hard to just commit to that 100%.”
Yahoo Sports quoted an anonymous black player, who said: “What message are we sending by agreeing to this during this time? We’re out here marching and protesting, and yet we all leave our families in these scary times and gather to perform at a place where the owners won’t be at? What type of sense does that make? We’ll be going backwards. That place isn’t that magical.”