The NBA officially tipped off this past Tuesday with two games, while the rest of the league resumed play on Wednesday.
Rather than maintaining the bubble format instituted for the end of the 2019-20 season in Orlando, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, along with medical experts, decided that the best course of action for the 2020-21 campaign would be to mirror that of the NFL and allow teams to travel to other venues and host games on their home courts, as long as the state allows it and the players and staff comply with a set of COVID-19 restrictions.
Of course, there will always be skeptics. What happens when a player gets sick or is exposed to someone with the virus? Does the entire team have to quarantine? Would games for the next 14 days be canceled? How can a season in this format occur at all?
Following a similar protocol, the NFL has played 15 weeks of games with only a few schedule changes and roster adjustments. As such, the league has been largely successful. NBA arenas, however, are indoors, while NFL stadiums are generally outside, which could potentially impact transmission of the virus.
In addition to loosening restrictions on players, three NBA teams – the Atlanta Hawks, the Utah Jazz, and the Memphis Grizzlies – are allowing a limited number of fans to attend their games.
How will fans impact the safety of the players?
On Wednesday, December 23, 2020, the NBA postponed its first game between the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder after three Rockets players returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive. Since the Rockets did not have the league-required eight available players to proceed so the NBA rescheduled the game.
While NFL teams only play once a week, NBA franchises play at least three times as many games. What happens if a team receives a positive test? When will they be able to take the court again? Not only does this impact the affected franchise, but also the opponents they are scheduled to face.
With little time between contests to test and quarantine, it will be extremely challenging for the NBA to deal with scheduling while preventing a larger outbreak.
Putting aside the doubt for a moment, however, in the NBA’s latest round of COVID-19 testing, there were only two new players of the 558 tested who received a positive result. This is a great sign for the league, especially after the Rockets debacle to begin the year.
With widespread vaccination on the horizon, professional sports look to be on the path to normalcy. Yet, as the 2020-21 NBA season proceeds during the pandemic, Adam Silver and other league administrators must continue to protect player and personnel safety.