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NBA commissioner Adam Silver preps league to lead return of sports

In this Feb. 16, 2019, file photo, NBA

In this Feb. 16, 2019, file photo, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during the NBA All-Star festivities in Charlotte, N.C. Credit: AP/Gerry Broome

Buried in the middle of a Wall Street Journal story Tuesday about a physician turned venture capitalist leading a group of scientists and billionaires in a battle against the COVID-19 pandemic was an item about a conference call that was held.

While the call was filled with industry leaders and even members of the White House staff, the leader of the call, Tom Cahill, got a text asking for the conference code to listen in from NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

It may have been a surprise to Cahill, but it shouldn’t be to anyone who has watched as Silver has pushed the NBA to the forefront of the battle. Silver’s move to suspend the season after the games of March 11, just hours after receiving the first positive test among a player in the league, set the stage for the other major American professional sports to follow suit.

And now, the NBA is tentatively, with baby steps, setting the course for  sports to return.

The league issued a memo to teams Monday instructing them on updated plans to allow players to return to team practice facilities. The orders were set to coincide with the decision by some states to ease or remove stay-at-home regulations. Georgia removed the restriction on nonessential businesses last Friday and Oklahoma is allowing gyms to open Friday. Colorado is allowing personal training facilities to open that day, too. Texas, Florida and Nevada have stay-at-home measures that are scheduled to expire Thursday.

Even teams in states with more restrictive measures are moving to try to open their facilities. ESPN reported that Lakers executives are working with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to try to obtain permission to open their facility in El Segundo to allow players to work out there.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has speculated that parts of New York could begin to open May 15. The Knicks are believed to have just one player — Taj Gibson — still in New York. The Nets have most of their players in the area. Neither team would comment on plans to open their facilities.

The push to open the facilities might not affect plans to resume play this season. Silver said in a conference call that he will not make any decision on whether to resume the season until May 1, and in a later call, he clarified that while that was the soonest that a plan could be implemented, it could come later as the league seeks clarity on the spread of the virus.

“We’re just not ready to set a date yet in terms of how long we can wait before we no longer would be able to continue this season,” Silver said last week. “I would just say everything is on the table, including potentially delaying the start of next season. We just need more information.”

In a conference call with President Donald Trump, Silver and the commissioners of the other professional sports leagues spoke about restarting sports as a way to help restart the economy.

“The sports industry can contribute restarting to this, bringing their spirits up,” Silver said on an NBA Together interview two days after the call with Trump. “We all miss it. This is an important form of entertainment, especially for young people . . . First and foremost is dealing with this virus. As experts have said, that means separation, isolation. We’re all prepared. We shouldn’t pretend it’s not coming at a great cost.”

The NHL has had discussions of resuming play in designated cities, quarantining players and essential personnel on site. MLB also has discussed possible scenarios of playing in spring training sites in Florida and Arizona.

While the NBA has discussed many different scenarios for a way to resume the season, including playing without fans in the arenas and playing in an isolated location, league sources have indicated that right now they are all just conjecture.

Even in the push to open the practice facilities, the NBA memo to teams  clearly was erring on the side of caution. While instructing teams that in cities with the eased restrictions, May 8 would be the first day in which teams would be allowed to open the facilities, the NBA set parameters for the use of the facilities that would help ensure the safety of players and team personnel.
— No more than four players permitted at a facility at any one time

— No head or assistant coaches participating.

— Group activity, including practices or scrimmages, prohibited.

— Players remain prohibited from using non-team facilities such as public health clubs, fitness centers or gyms.

The teams must assign one senior executive as a facility hygiene officer, responsible for scheduling workouts and coordinating all of the necessary planning for the arrival of players. Players must wear face masks during their time at the facility other than when they are engaging in physical activities and staff must always wear face masks and gloves and keep a distance of 12 feet from each other (other than a player receiving treatment from a trainer). Players will be required to observe sanitizing procedures and have temperature taken and symptoms checked upon arriving at the facility.

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