On Thursday the NBA was sending directives to its teams to lock the doors on their facilities, cutting off the workouts for players that they were overseeing in the last week and moving another step down the road toward a total ghost town.
COVID-19 had shut down the league, nine days into the suspension of the season. But in an interview with ESPN on Wednesday night, NBA commissioner Adam Silver pitched potential ways to restart things. After talking about a return to normal games in front of fans and the eerie thought of playing in empty arenas, he threw out this suggestion.
“A third option — and all suggestions are welcome,” he said. “The impact to me on the national psyche of having no sports on television, one of the things we’ve been talking about, are there conditions a group of players could compete, and maybe it’s for a giant fundraiser or just the collective good of the people, that you take a subset of players and is there a protocol they could be tested and quarantined, isolated in some way, and then they compete against each other just because people are stuck at home and I think they need a diversion. They need to be entertained. One thing I’ve thought about a lot, we were the first to shut our league down. In what way could we be a first mover to start our economy?”
And at first glance, it sounds like a great idea, particularly today, in a basketball (well, any sport)-starved nation. Gather up some stars sometime after isolation and testing has cleared them and forget filling an arena — just put it on television and I assure you, everyone will watch. Play it for charity. Raise money for any of the folks who so desperately need the help right now — arena workers, small businesses, homeless families. And really, just play it for the game, for a chance for players to get on the court again and for fans to tune in and watch.
That’s at first glance. And then you think, how could this ever work? While the saying goes ''where there’s a will, there’s a way,'' the will may be there, but the way certainly seems like a long, hard path to navigate.
Consider the obstacles, starting with the virus itself. Ten players have been revealed to have tested positive, but as Silver noted, “I honestly was not all that surprised, given what we’re hearing, given the lack of testing that's available. My sense is, especially in the New York area, if you took any random group of New Yorkers, likely there are going to be some positive tests.”
Eight teams have been recommended to have the players tested, but as any corner of any town could attest, it’s not just eight teams at risk. There is a good chance that there are plenty of other players, asymptomatic now, who would test positive. Or they have a family member or a friend who has crossed their path who is positive for the virus and could have passed it on to them.
So the first step to getting players on the court would have to be testing and isolating each and every one of the players who would be willing to participate. That means isolating them from other players, from their trainers, from their families. And then gathering, let’s say 12 players per team, 24 total, and then trainers and coaches, referees and game operations staff at the least.
Then there is the matter of getting them on the court. That means flying players from all around the nation to one location. And where would that location be?
Certainly not a hot spot like New York or San Francisco? Seattle, you were robbed of a team, so how about an exhibition in your arena? Um, not right now.
And if you could get the players onto planes — and no one would blame them for passing on the thought of getting into a jet these days — then you have to house them. Hotels? Maybe. Army base? Sure, imagine the discussion — "Hey, would you like to leave your estate where you are playing 2K with your kids and come camp out on a cot for a few days?''
Then the most troubling aspect of bringing the stars together as a way to kick-start the return to normalcy — and make no mistake, we’d all love to see this happen — is what happens on the court.
Let’s say you convince the stars to gather, to sacrifice and be a part of this — hopefully for a great cause, not just to satisfy two hours of sports programming.
Then the game tips off and LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo goes down awkwardly, suffering an injury in an exhibition game, ending his season — assuming the season does resume.
If this game is a precursor to a return to play, a continuation of this season or a jump straight to the playoffs, would a star risk his season — particularly someone like James, who is 35 years old and whose opportunities to chase a title could be coming to an end — for an exhibition game?
So there are plenty of reasons to not play the game. Are there enough reasons not to play that they wouldn’t do it?
As Silver said, he’s open to suggestions, and as they go, his is as good as any. Watching 24-hour news networks click through the death toll or following the stock market downward is too depressing for anyone to sit through for too long. A game, any game, would be welcome.
Silver was open to suggestions. Someone figure out the logistics. We’ll be watching.