In a 29-1 vote, the NBA’s owners have voted to resume the league’s regular season, which has been on hold since March due to COVID-19, on July 31, with playoff rounds beginning in August.
The NBA players still have to sign off, but player representatives from the teams are expected to endorse the plan on a conference call set for Friday.
If it goes forward, the setup would have the season pick up with regular-season games contested by 22 of the league’s 30 teams on July 31 at a single site, ESPN Wide World of Sports outside of Orlando, FL. No fans would attend any of the games. An extensive regime of testing and monitoring players would be in effect, with players, coaches and staff confined to a “bubble” environment, where they would sleep and eat when not on the court.
In a press release confirming the owners’ vote, the NBA noted it is still finalizing health and safety protocols. It also described the restart as “tentative” given that it is also needs a final agreement with Disney for use of the Florida site’s facilities.
The Wide World of Sports deal has a lot of upside for both sides, but therefore requires some negotiating. For Disney, it would deliver a big boost to programming- and ad-starved ESPN and ABC, along with filling hotels and offering weeks of TV promotion for its theme parks and brands. For the league, it offers a sound logistical solution given there is no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, with the added bonus of a longtime media partner being the owner of the facility.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a press release. “We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
Teams are slated to begin practicing in their own cities at the end of June before moving to Orlando in July.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who was among the first to report the news, said sources told him that the Portland Trail Blazers cast the lone dissenting vote on the restart. The “franchise believed there were more competitive and innovative formats on table — including those that addressed 2020 NBA Draft lottery odds based on regular-season game results in Orlando,” he tweeted.
The playoffs, which typically conclude with the NBA Finals on ABC in June, will extend through the fall, with October 12 the latest possible date of Game 7 of the Finals. The NBA has also set August 25 for the date of its draft lottery and October 15 for the draft. The 2020-21 season would likely begin in December, weeks later than usual, to accommodate the playoff delay.
In addition to being a perennial top draw in the TV ratings and on social media, the NBA became a symbol of the collective jolt delivered by COVID-19. At least 10 players have tested positive, though they have since recovered. Games on March 11 were called and the entire season suspended just before tipoff, creating a televised scene of confused fans and players heading to the exits. The league’s pause, soon followed by the cancellation of NCAA March Madness, sent a clear signal across the U.S. about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected nearly 1.9 million Americans, killing almost 108,000.
The NBA is the most prominent U.S. team sport to stage a comeback during the pandemic. Internationally, major soccer leagues have resumed play. Stateside, the PGA Tour will return next week with fan-free tournaments and major colleges and the NFL have signaled their willingness to move forward with their seasons in the fall. They have said they will be watching the NBA’s progress closely this summer.
TNT has scheduled a one-hour live episode of Inside the NBA for tonight at 8PM ET. In addition to the league’s restart, the show’s co-hosts will discuss the social-justice landscape and the impact of the George Floyd protests, a major focus for league officials and players over the past 10 days.
WarnerMedia’s TNT and Disney’s ESPN and ABC are two-thirds of the way through a long-term NBA rights deal worth $24 billion.