NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that no option would have been risk-free during a pandemic, saying on Friday that concerns of the league and its players are mounting around the restart of the season next month as coronavirus cases in Florida continue to rise.
That said, the league and the National Basketball Players Association are moving forward – completing the deal bringing back the NBA game and seeing teams arrive at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida in less than two weeks.
Many of the details of the deal were already known, such as how “stringent health and safety protocols” would apply to the 22 teams that will participate, that no fans will be present, and that matches will be held in three different arenas on the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.
But when those protocols were completed, the Orange County, Florida area – which includes Orlando – had seen 5% positive coronavirus tests in the past 10 days. In the 10 days that followed, the number of positive tests there has risen to just over 15%.
“Ultimately, we think it’s safer on our campus than out there,” Silver said Friday afternoon. “But the signal we send is that this is certainly not business as usual. This is far from an ideal way to end our season, and it requires massive sacrifices from everyone involved. ”
Silver said the league is working with Disney to test at least some of their staff on site who could be in the same room as NBA players, which he believes will make the setting even safer.
Once players arrive at Disney, they are tested daily. Testing is now in a mandatory alternate day for the 22 teams participating in the restarted season. and the results of Tuesday’s first 302 tests saw 16 players positive for the virus.
“I think people would have been concerned,” said NBPA director Michele Roberts. “But, God forgive me, I was honestly relieved to some extent that the number was no higher. … If nothing else, it told me that the vast majority of our players did exactly what they should have done to protect themselves. ”
Silver said it is possible that if there was a significant spread of the virus on the Disney campus, “that could lead us to stop.” He said the league has not decided exactly what number it will take to end the competition once it resumes, and will continue to work with the players and health officials to determine what that number should be.
The union and union announced earlier this week that tackling racial issues and inequality in the country will be a priority during the restarted season. Silver, Roberts, and others – including Oklahoma City Thunder union chairman Chris Paul – emphasized on Friday that those things will be an extremely critical part of what’s happening at Disney, both on and off the floor.
The Orlando Magic will kick off their season on July 31 at 2:30 PM against Brooklyn. It will be the first of the Magic’s eight seeding games.
While discussing plans to start a restart season and then play a full postseason during a pandemic, the league and union have also had numerous meetings to discuss options for addressing issues such as the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the ongoing problem of police brutality and the promotion of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We all understand how powerful our voice is,” said Paul. “Even when we play again, our voice can still be heard … on an incredible platform. You keep hearing us. It is never a shut up and dribble situation. You keep hearing us. ‘
Silver said the NBA considers itself an important partner for the messages players want to see and hear from Disney, at a time of what he called massive social unrest. “We are perhaps the most uniquely qualified organization in the world to influence change,” said Silver, noting that the players of the competition are some of the best-known black personalities in the world.
The NBA suspended its season March 11 because of the virus. It took the league more than three months to get to this point, and it seems very unlikely that once teams end up in a safe environment at Disney, issues like more positive tests wouldn’t be a factor.
There are countless business reasons to play, huge streams of income are at stake for players, the league and the media partners of the NBA – including Disney. And Silver acknowledged that while the competition “hasn’t gone through every scenario” regarding the possibility of on-site positives at Disney, he thinks coming back is the best move.
“Ultimately, whether it’s racism or a pandemic, we’ll be back because sport is important in our society,” said Silver. “They bring people together when we need them most and show them how to balance public health and economic need.”