The NBA Is Back, But Will It Work?

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For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic ended professional sports almost three months ago, the NBA has come up with a plan that would see a return to play in July. The modified season, including a postseason, would continue into October.

All of the games would be played at the Disney-ESPN sports complex in Orlando.

You could think of this as the “quarantine” model, where all the teams and players are in the same physical location for the entirety of the “season.” This limits their travel, and thus limits the potential geographic spread of the virus from one team to the next. The downside is that it could possibly spread quickly amongst themselves, but expect there to be lots of protections in place to keep things as healthy as possible.

If a player gets sick, they will be removed from the team and placed into quarantine or treatment away from the rest of the players.

In its proposal, the NBA released the format for this truncated season. Thirteen teams from the West and nine from the East will play an eight-game regular season, followed by the playoffs.

The 22 teams participating would be selected by choosing the top 16 teams by record from the East and the West, plus six teams who are within six games of eighth place. These teams would be New Orleans, Washington, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio and, yes, the Portland Trail Blazers.

This plan seems to be reasonable enough. Presumably it is based on the advice of medical professionals. It is in accordance with the reopening plans of many states, which will be allowing gatherings of fifty or fewer people by the time this season starts.

Assuming that it doesn’t lead to a major outbreak of infections, this NBA season will be good for a lot of people. It will be good for the teams, owners and players, who can all earn income by going back to work, which is something that most of us can relate to. It will also be good for the fans, who need sports in their lives for a variety of reasons, ranging from entertainment needs to feeling a sense of community as they root for specific teams and players.

It’s a little tricky because after the 2019-20 season ends in October, players will have a short break before beginning the 2020-21 season in December—not that fans will complain since it will feel almost like back-to-back basketball seasons.

This “summer league” could also pave the way for other sports to plan for how they will continue. College basketball could be a beneficiary. If the NBA can keep players safe this summer, that will show colleges how they can do the same for their players.

These kinds of special arrangements can’t go on forever, but as we deal with this global pandemic by making adjustments to the way things are normally done, this may be a temporary solution until we can find a vaccine and put this pandemic behind us.

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Paul Redman

Paul Redman is a writer and chef in Seattle who grew up in the Midwest. His work has appeared in print and online, including San Francisco magazine, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Contrary. He eats too many chicken wings and cracks way too many dad jokes and food puns. Follow him on Twitter @predman.

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