“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved,” the statement said, “and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”
The NBA is expected to return to the court in multiple phases, according to people with knowledge of the league’s thinking, with an initial quarantine period to accommodate the arrival of players. More than half of the NBA’s 30 teams have reopened their practice facilities for individual workouts, but others, including the Washington Wizards, remain shut out because of local government orders.
The Wide World of Sports Complex, which is part of Disney World, has been closed during the pandemic, but it has been rumored to be a top destination for a single-site campus for weeks because of its sprawling layout, ESPN affiliation and support from the local government. The 230-acre complex has thousands of hotel rooms and multiple facilities capable of hosting games and practices, theoretically allowing the NBA to limit contact between its players and the outside world. ESPN is one of the NBA’s major media partners, and Disney executive chairman Bob Iger addressed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s board of governors in April.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who reopened restaurants, gyms and barbershops at limited capacity Monday, has said leagues such as the NBA will have the full support of local government in his state.
“All these professional sports are going to be welcome in Florida,” he said this month. “If you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida. We think it’s important, and we know it can be done safely.”
Even so, numerous logistical questions and safety issues remain for the NBA, which could still consider other locations, such as Las Vegas, to host games this summer. It is not yet known how many teams will be involved in the resumed games, whether games will begin with the regular season or proceed directly to the playoffs, or what type of postseason format would be used. NBA general managers were surveyed Friday for their preferences on these subjects, the Athletic reported, with a wide variety of scenarios included as options.
Public health experts have concluded the coronavirus, which has led to the deaths of at least 95,000 Americans, is transmitted more easily indoors and in close-contact situations. Those conditions are particularly challenging for a full-contact sport that is played inside, and NBA teams to this point have instructed players to practice strict social distancing during workouts at their facilities.
Testing remains another concern. Players are expected to receive regular temperature checks and coronavirus tests upon their return. The nasal swab testing method is viewed as invasive, and its results aren’t immediate, while doubts remain about the efficacy of other testing methods.
Another open question: To what degree will the campus function as a closed bubble? Understandably, players would prefer to have a degree of freedom of movement and, in an ideal world, be joined by their families, given that a playoff run can last two months. But instituting loose restrictions on player movement off-site and/or bringing more people to the site would increase the risk of exposure.
Silver warned members of the National Basketball Players Association on a recent call that they would need to be prepared for the possibility of players testing positive. The league plans to quarantine any players who test positive rather than suspend play, as it did in March when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first player to test positive. Silver and the board of governors are set to meet Friday to discuss return plans further.
If games don’t resume until late July, the season probably would not end until after Labor Day. That would delay other major NBA events, including the 2020 draft, free agency and the start of the 2020-21 season, which could be pushed to December.