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NBA, NBPA finalize restart plan, Silver says “we can’t outrun the virus”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

The National Basketball Association and National Basketball Players Association have finalized plans to restart the 2019-20 season on July 30, despite currently soaring numbers of cases of Covid-19 in the state of Florida.

The league and union said they have completed a comprehensive plan for the season resumption in a quarantined, environment without attending fans at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex outside of Orlando, Florida, and insisted the closed environment there remains their best option to resume competition. The plan will involve 22 of the league’s 30 teams. 

The initial restart date is a day sooner than what was previously contemplated during a Board of Governors vote earlier this month.

The resumption of play involves a lengthy negotiated agreement, highlighted by extensive controls on player and staff movement around the Disney-owned complex, strict limits on who can access the controlled environment, and daily testing of involved personnel for the virus. 

But the plan that is months in development is also running squarely against surging numbers of Covid-19 cases in Florida. The state on June 26, the day the NBA and NBPA finalized their plans, reported a state-record daily number of cases, reaching 8,942 as an aggressive reopening plan led by Governor Ron DeSantis has quickly run awry and forced bars to be closed again. 

“We know that Covid-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future,” Silver said. “And we are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus…No options are risk-free right now.”

New cases in Florida has since only ebbed slightly in the days since, and the state remains a troubling US hotspot for Covid-19.

Even before the restart plan is enacted, the league and union said 16 players out of 302, a rate of 5.3 per cent, in a first wave of mandatory tests were found to be positive for Covid-19. Those players must remain in self-isolation until public health protocols are satisfied. But the league and union both said they were encouraged that the players testing positive were not seriously ill.

“I’m somewhat relieved the number was not higher,” said Michael Roberts, union executive director. “I’m also relieved that we had the foresight to identify the players that would be testing positive now because our goal, of course, is to make sure that when guys to report to campus that they’d be reporting testing negative. I’ve been holding my breath for the last few weeks, and again, maybe I should be less enthusiastic or optimistic If nothing else, it’s told me that the great majority of our players have been doing what they should have been doing, which is keeping safe. Again, one is too many, but 150 would have been devastating.”

Still, Silver acknowledged his “level of concern has increased” due to the soaring case numbers in Florida and many other parts of the country.

“My ultimately conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus, and that this is what we’re going to be living with for the foreseeable future, which is why we designed the campus the way we did,” he said. “And so it’s a closed network. And while it’s not impermeable, we are in essence protected from cases around us. At least that’s the model. So for those reasons, we’re still very comfortable being in Orlando.”

He did say, though, that a “significant spread” of the virus within the quarantined environment could cause another suspension of the season. 

“We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens,” Silver said. “We all talk daily and we’re going to see how this continues to play out, but we feel very comfortable right now with where we are.”

The league and union also set a schedule to begin on July 30 with a high-profile matchup between crosstown title contenders the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, followed in a doubleheader by a game between the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans. 

“Ultimately, whether it’s fighting racism or a pandemic, we’re coming back because sports matter in our society,” Silver said. “They bring people together when we need it the most, and they can show how we can balance public health and economic necessity, plus a shared desire for shared experiences and something to cheer for through the months ahead.”