The NBA season opens Tuesday, with the 76ers getting underway on Wednesday. Despite the pandemic, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is confident that the 72-game schedule and playoffs can be played in a safe manner.
“The short answer is we are comfortable with the health and safety protocols that we have designed in consultation with the Player’s Association and our health and our medical experts,” Silver said during a Monday conference call that included other NBA officials. “Plus we would not be opening a season if we didn’t feel it was safe and responsible to do so.”
Although Silver is confident, he understands that anything can happen during a pandemic.
“In terms of confidence of a complete 72-game season, we are confident that we can do it and if we weren’t, we wouldn’t have started,” he said. “I will say we do anticipate there will be bumps in the road along the way.”
He mentioned that is why the NBA has only released half of its schedule, realizing there might be games that have to be rescheduled. Because of various state rulings, the league will have just six of its 30 teams begin the season playing in front of fans.
Those six are Cleveland, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Utah, and Tampa, which will be the temporary home for the Toronto Raptors because of the restrictive travel rules in Canada.
Silver is hopeful that fans will be able to attend games in the latter part of the season once the vaccine is distributed. The regular season is scheduled to end on May 16 and the playoffs are scheduled from May 22 through July 22.
“We certainly didn’t go into this season from an economic standpoint banking on having full arenas,” he said. “If that could happen, it would be a wonderful sign for the country.”
Silver is also hoping that the availability of a vaccine will help not only the NBA but other businesses as well, adding that the league would be patient when it comes to the vaccine.
“It goes without saying in no form or way will we jump the line, we will wait our turn to get the vaccine,” he said. “When that comes is uncertain. It is my hope when we are eligible, that members of the NBA community will want to get vaccinated, and it is our plan to get involved in governmental efforts in terms of public messaging as to the benefits of taking the vaccine.”
The NBA enjoyed a successful restart to the season during the summer in Kissimmee, Fla. A total of 22 teams played three exhibition games and eight seeding games before the playoffs. There were no positive COVID tests during that time, which raised the question of whether the NBA would consider another bubble for the playoffs.
“There are circumstances where if it were over a shorter period of time, we would be open to returning to a bubble and I think the players would as well if that were the only alternative to otherwise not playing,” Silver said.
The NBA is also working on a plan for the G League.
“We’ve heard from our teams that they want to have players ready to call up,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said. “...We are finalizing plans and ways to do that and potential locations for the number of teams that are going to participate.”
Silver said there was no exact threshold for suspending a game or even the season. Like any league, there is the element of risk in starting a season during a pandemic. He was also honest about why the NBA is starting now.
“I have acknowledged that it was a mixed sort of health and safety and economic decision to start our season, meaning that health and safety has always been our highest priority,” Silver said. “But we recognize that if we hadn’t started the season, there were also very dire economic implications, not just for the immediate members of the NBA community but those tens of thousands of jobs that are dependent on the league.
“But the decision tree that we look at in terms of suspending is solely a health and safety one. If at any point, we no longer believe that it is responsible to play, we will halt the season.”