The calendar has flipped to May, and that means the clock is ticking for the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver said weeks ago that May 1 would be the soonest he would begin to formulate a plan for what the summer might look like for his league, and a new report from Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps of ESPN outlines the various issues at hand as the league starts to venture out of the woods.
The NBA has loosely estimated that 1,500 people would be included in its “bubble” should some form of the regular-season schedule be completed. The ESPN report states that number could be cut in half, however, if the league moved directly to the playoffs. One concession that would include that has already been made, according to ESPN, is allowing families of players to live wherever games are played, inside the bubble.
This would kill two birds with one stone: Appease players wary of being quarantined away from their loved ones for months or weeks at a time, and put some semblance of a crowd into gyms that will be without fans for the foreseeable future. Still, there is plenty of skepticism about how all of it would work.
“There are so many layers that would have to come into play for [a bubble] to even happen,” Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, said last week. “We would have to know exactly what that would look like. There’s a lot of hypotheticals out there.”
Such a bubble would also include a smaller, 28-person group of essential personnel, down from the 70 or 75 that might typically travel with NBA teams during the playoffs. In addition, according to ESPN, seven statisticians and PA announcers as well as two “ball boys” and 36-38 referees would be needed to ensure games run smoothly. Television producers told ESPN they would need 20-25 staff onsite in addition to others in trucks outside the building, who may or may not be included in the NBA bubble.
Should the NBA be stationed in massive hotels at a resort somewhere like Walt Disney World or the Las Vegas Strip, hundreds of hotel workers would also be needed, likely separated from their families and quarantined at the resort along with everyone else involved.
The enormity of the operation is not without cost, even as it offers much-needed business for many stakeholders. The main reason the NBA cannot yet move forward is that they expect to use at least 15,000 coronavirus tests over the duration of the contracted season — which could be as many as 88 days with a full regular season or 55 or fewer for just the playoffs — and the United States is not yet in position to open the floodgates on testing. Los Angeles became the first city in America to offer free diagnostic tests to every member of the community, a signal of how much progress must still be made for the NBA to consume such a quantity of tests.
Other smaller issues still must be sorted out, ESPN reports, including how to protect older basketball operations staff, broadcasters and referees who are more at-risk of major illness than the young athletes taking the court, and how to manage transportation without expanding the bubble even further.
Considering the entire operation must begin with ramping up practices, gathering the league together in one place, and quarantining for two weeks before games are even a consideration, the time to act is nearing. Should the NBA have a goal of playing in July, this process must start soon.