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Adam Silver suggests NBA exhibition game during hiatus to lift public mood

NBA commissioner Adam Silver

National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver has suggested staging an exhibition game between players for charity, provided it is medically cleared, to lift the public mood during the sports hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The NBA, like virtually all other professional sports leagues in North America, is at the start of an indefinite suspension of competition due to the ongoing health crisis. It is unclear when the NBA will resume action but Silver said he was “optimistic” that the 2019-20 season could be salvaged, though it is unclear in what format.

In a lengthy interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Silver said a one-off fundraising event could serve as an incremental step for the league to act “as a first-mover to restart the economy”.

Silver explained: “One of the things we’ve been talking about, are there conditions in which a group of players could compete? And maybe it’s for a giant fundraiser, or just for the collective good of the people that you take a subset of players, and is there a protocol in which they can be tested and quarantined or isolated in some way, and then they can compete against each other? Just because again, people are stuck at home and I think they need a diversion, and I think they need to be entertained.”

Silver made a point of defending the amount of Covid-19 tests that NBA teams and players have received, ahead of potentially more vulnerable people in society, which sparked criticism from public figures such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Seven NBA players have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week, including the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, Detroit Pistons’ Christian Wood, and Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant and three other unnamed team-mates. Eight teams have conducted tests, including Utah, Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Detroit, Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Silver noted it was the sheer fact that the NBA tested some of its players that led to its season shutting down and all other professional sports leagues in the United States following suit.

“There are insufficient tests,” Silver said. “I understand from a public health standpoint why some people reacted the way they did. But from an NBA standpoint, we were following (medical) directives.”

“I understand there are many sides of this issue. But by virtue of an NBA player being tested and the attention it brought?” Silver added. “My sense was, especially young people in the United States, people were not taking these protocols seriously until the NBA did what it did.”

Earlier this month, Atlanta Hawks chief executive Steve Koonin suggested pushing the NBA season back two months to reduce a clash with the National Football League and in turn boost television ratings.

Under his suggestion, the NBA season would begin in mid-December, rather than mid-October and thus avoid competing with much of the NFL regular season, which remains the most popular television property in the United States by a big margin. The NBA Finals would then take part in August, with the NBA Draft and Summer League shifting back in the calendar as well.

Silver said Koonin’s idea was an option that was being seriously discussed in the league.

“Possibly,” he said. “Those are things we’re always talking about whether they’re executives at…ESPN or Warmer Media, together with our regional sports networks. I will say what the conventional television calendar has changed so much, certainly since I got into this business. Prime time means something very different than it used to now that people in essence carry televisions around with them in their pockets.

“The summer is viewed differently than it was historically from the television standpoint, so regardless of whether we had been going through all this [pandemic], it’s something that the league office together with our teams has been spending a lot of time on. And we have a lot of our team owners who are technologists, media mavens by background, and so it’s something that committees of owners and league officials have been working on a lot, especially over the last year or so,” Silver said.