How to Save the NBA Season
Wednesday night, the NBA season came to a screeching halt in a manner unimaginable back in October: two teams unable to even walk on the floor because of risk of contagion. Never before in the history of American professional sports has a season been shuttered for a non-labor related crisis.. World War II didn’t stop baseball, but as I am writing this the NCAA just canceled March Madness. And I’m pretty sure it was the right thing to do.
The coronavirus may experience a summer swoon as temperatures rise, but if it does not, it is very likely the 2019-2020 NBA season will be canceled. The logistics of keeping players and staff clear when traveling back and forth from multiple cities and combined with the sheer number of people who come into contact with NBA players would overwhelm the desire for a restarted season. Instead, it would just be over. No Lebron going for a 4th title. No Giannis fighting for a foothold in the pantheon. No Kawhi cementing his legacy as the giant-killer and true heir to Jordan.
I can’t help but wonder: what if this is an opportunity for the NBA? Very soon people will be confined to their homes, save for short trips for food and other necessities. This new reality presents challenges for everyone, but it also presents opportunities. People will have large amounts of free time to spend online and on television, and live entertainment will have a captive audience.
It’s time to think outside the box. I am proposing an idea called the NBA Village.
For the end of the season and playoffs, all teams, the players, and the personnel, would be in one location: the NBA Village. The ideal location for the NBA Village would be in Las Vegas, whose casinos face the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars as gamblers and tourists stay home. In this gap the NBA could come in and rent these facilities. The hotels would be cleaned and all staff tested. Once they test clear, they have to stay on sight for the duration of the season.
To get to the Village, NBA players would quarantine offsite and get checked for CoVID-19. Once a team is clear, they travel by private jet straight to Vegas and to a hotel adjacent to the village, where they are tested again. If they pass, they can enter and set up in their suites at their hotel inside the village. The same process for everybody who will be staying in the village, which would include team staff and personnel, referees, officials, journalists, and a limited number of guests of the players. Just like the Olympic village, the hotel would be walled off from the outside. But in this case a badge won’t get you access; no one could enter without going through isolation and testing.
Vegas is also ideal because it’s both extremely hot and extremely dry. In fact, this might be the key for the whole project. If you can get players clear, logistically can you keep COVID out? What about the food and equipment that must be delivered? What if somebody slips through? The Vegas desert would be the linchpin in the quarantine, killing stray virus that may try to enter and limiting its spread if it does.
Once everyone has been verified clear of COVID-19, the NBA season can resume. Small arenas in the hotels will make for an intimate environment, and the spectators will be players, personnel, journalists, and families who are living in the village. NBA games will feel more like high school games, only this time the community will be the best basketball players on the planet. No more traveling to other arenas across the country, no extravaganza, just basketball.
The playoffs would be raucous affairs: Rather than Booker and Beal sitting at home watching, players could cheer and boo their peers from right next to the court. The NBA could have all the players and staff pick favorites and don team colors before each game; the environment would be infectious. The mix of camaraderie and sport, the joy of humans engaging in the highest form of athletic prowess with all the people they love and respect would make for fantastic television, and infinitely better than a playoffs full of empty arenas in July. People would love it, the players would as well, and the TV revenue would offset some of the expense and perhaps even generate significant revenue (Nobody has anything else to do!!!) for the teams that right now will be a complete loss.
The logistics of this are challenging, but this is a league that is essentially 30 independent large-scale event planning businesses. It is well within the scope of the teams and the league’s abilities. Vegas and gamblers would find some relief, as their livelihoods are deeply imperiled as well. These plans would need to be vetted and cleared with medical professionals, and this is of course the chief obstacle. Can it be done safely? I don’t know, but there is reason to think this could go forward. The reality is most players are already going to be isolated, and many of them will get COVID-19 anyway. This just might be a way for them to be safely isolated together.
And even if there is a summer swoon of coronavirus, this still may be the way the league wants to go. Arena logistics in the offseason get complicated, and not every state and city may be equally free of the virus. Putting the season and playoffs in Vegas, however this pandemic unfolds, will in the end simplify all the contingincies and worries that could kill this season outright.
Our lives are about to get very complicated, very quickly. And for many people these days could be very difficult, full of loss, pain, and fear. We will need an escape. I want to see Lebron challenge Michael with a 5th MVP and a run at another title. I want to see Kawhi try to stop him. And I want Giannis to dunk from the 3point line at least 50 more times. Am I crazy for thinking this might work?