NBA Rumor: 2020-21 Season Plans

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Wes Goldberg: Here’s Warriors President & COO @RickWelts discussing the “encouraging news” that fans may be allowed into Chase Center as soon as this month. “Our job now is to sit down with the county and make sure … we can return Warriors fans into Chase Center.”

Today, Golden 1 Center announced it has received the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management designation from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). Another step toward preparing for the return of fans and guests, the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating for all facilities, focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans and stakeholder education to address a current and post-COVID-19 environment and broader health and safety-related issues into the future.

Mavs inviting vaccinated essential workers to arena

Starting with Monday night’s home game against Minnesota, the Mavericks finally will have fans in American Airlines Center, but not just any fans: 1,500 essential workers, who will be admitted for free. “We owe so much to people who have put their lives at risk to make us safer,” said Mavs owner, Mark Cuban said in a news release. “Bringing them to a Mavs game is the least we can do!”

Under new media rules, after you pass your COVID test, you go to your assigned seat and stay there. Period. Unless you need a bathroom break. From the Nets’ media seats in the 200 level (think “corner of the arena, halfway up”) one could see a pair of security guards come onto the court during every timeout, but there was nothing for them to do except go through the motions and look busy. There was no one inside the arena for them to crowd control.

Facing projected losses of up to 40% in revenue for the 2020-21 season due to the loss of gate receipts, according to ESPN, players weighed the financial realities with the physical and mental toll of resuming play so quickly, leading to the shortest NBA offseason in history. “It was a no-brainer for us to start (early),” Monte Morris said. “It was something that some guys weren’t wanting to do so quick, just with the standard of being off, just getting done with basketball. Sometimes, you want to sit back and have a break.”

In an interview Tuesday morning, Nets and BSE Global CEO John Abbamondi told CNBC that the NBA will face huge losses without fans in the stands this season, but he’s hopeful that as things return to normal with COVID vaccines, arenas will be full again by the post-season. Abbamondi added he’s also hopeful that the NBA season will survive “bumps along this road” as the play resumes while the pandemic continues to rage across the country. The concern, he said, begins with players testing positive for the coronavirus.

Abbamondi told CNBC that NBA teams hope they’ll be able to welcome fans back in time for the postseason, when gate revenues —and team profits— are usually at their highest. In the meantime, the league has raised $900 million and will provide teams with $30 million each to stay afloat for the year. “We are optimistic that before this season is over, which will be in the summer of next year, things are going to look very different,” Abbamondi said. “There is a lot of caution, but there’s also a sense of optimism, and I think all Americans share that.”

And yet, the executive said, “do I think all 72 will be played for every team? No.” “When we went to Orlando, our expectation was that it was possible that we would have cases and that we would have to manage those and obviously that was as successful as we could have dreamed,” said David Weiss, the NBA’s senior vice president of player matters. “Now our expectation is that we’re going to have cases and we’ll have to manage those, especially given the backdrop of the country.

The problem is that frequent testing is a reactive, and not a truly preventative means of stymieing an outbreak. A forgotten fact about the 2020 NBA bubble is that there were dozens of positive tests from staff, workers and other individuals involved with running the bubble. But the bubble was successful in preventing these cases from spilling over into the pool of players because of the hard barrier between the players and the rest of the bubble (and surrounding world). Bharti noted that “when you have something like the NBA’s bubble system, it’s defined by layers of increasing porosity around the tightly protected players [e.g., buffers between the players and the hotel staff, who move in and out of the bubble]. But once you’re in the inner bubble, the mixing and the contact rates inside of it are very high and the contacts are frequent. So if you take that configuration of frequency of contacts and intensity of contacts, and you try and do it without the peripheral buffers, you would very quickly end up in trouble because you wouldn’t have firebreaks between teams.”

The NBA schedule means more travel and frequent contact between teams. For all of the NBA’s problems with COVID-19, the structure of the NFL schedule facilitates more control over interactions between teams. That is, over 80% of teams usually play on a single day (Sunday, with most of the other matchups being single games on Thursday and Monday). And this schedule means that it is easier to control contacts through the rescheduling of games. For the 2020-21 season, the NBA has gone to lengths to change the schedule to prevent frequent travel and contacts (e.g., instituting a “series” structure as in the MLB, where teams play each other multiple times consecutively, all in one city).

The NBA may not have the personnel to withstand player losses that will come with team outbreaks. One of the largest threats to the NBA’s well-being resides in one of its strengths. That is, the league has risen to prominence so rapidly in part because it is a player- and personality-driven sport. And it is that way because teams are not composed of large armies of faceless individuals who can easily be replaced. Rather, basketball is a great sport specifically because singular performers have such a large influence. And part of this is reflected in the size of NBA rosters: 15 players, of which 13 are active at any given time. Because of this, an outbreak among three players on a given team would be much more challenging to compensate for than in the NFL, with its larger roster (53 players) and practice squad reservoirs. Given the interconnectedness of the schedules and frequency of travel, an outbreak on one team could have ripple effects throughout the league, complicating the schedules of other teams.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Monday that the league will never “jump the line in any form whatsoever” when it comes to its players receiving COVID-19 vaccines and that the league plans to work with the government on public service campaigns to promote the importance of taking a vaccine. “There’s no way we’d ever jump the line in any form whatsoever,” Silver said. “And, for the most part, because our players are so young and healthy without some sort of comorbidity, they will not be a high priority for vaccinations. There are some other members of the NBA community working on court who are older and will have a higher priority to get the vaccine.
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