The National Basketball Association is planning to restart its 2019-20 season with a high-profile showdown between crosstown rivals the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.
The LA franchises – both among the favorites to win the NBA title – are scheduled to face each other on July 30, as the latter part of a doubleheader with the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans. Both games will be shown nationally in the United States on TNT.
Those opening matches are due to be followed by six games on July 31, including crucial match-ups between the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, and the Houston Rockets taking on the Dallas Mavericks.
Games will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida, with 22 of the 30 NBA teams participating in a quarantined tournament in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Games will be played without attending fans. The league and union late last week finalized the components of the restart plan, including health and safety components.
All of the teams will play eight “seeding games” prior to the playoffs, which are scheduled to run through mid-October. There will be a maximum of seven games per day; tip-offs will range from 12.30pm ET until 9pm ET; while two of the three courts are set up for nationally-televised games.
As part of the plans, 52 of the 88 “seeding games” will be nationally televised, with 18 on TNT, 17 on ESPN, 14 on NBA TV and three on ABC. Games will be shown in local markets as well.
The “seeding games” will conclude on August 14. Possible play-in games to determine the eighth playoff seed in either conference will take place on August 15-16.
The NBA and its broadcast and technology partners are also collaborating to enhance game telecasts and bring fans an immersive, interactive viewing experience.
“Fans, of course, will not be present. But they remain at the heart of our game, so for these games we need to fundamentally alter the way we engage with them,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“While they won’t be physically in the arenas, we play with a deepened communal connection to sports with a more networked and immersive experience, using, for example, unique, never-before-seen camera angles and amped audio of players and coaches, personalized alternative streams with statistical overlays, chat functions, and social influencers, attachments to your [mobile] app that light up the arena in the team’s colors, along with virtual concerts and halftime performances,” he said.
Mark Tatum, NBA deputy commissioner, also said plans are being formalized to allow fans “to be seen in the arena and to have hundreds of fans be able to appear on the video boards surrounding the court.”
Meanwhile, NBA players could wear social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys instead of their surnames to help raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement. And even if that particular measure does materialize, both the league and union said the cause will be a prominently discussed one throughout the league’s resumption.
There has been concern in recent weeks among some players that playing games again could detract from the urgency of the racial justice conversation playing out across the country. But the NBA and National Basketball Players Association are working on several measures, even beyond the jersey idea, within the Orlando restart plan to make sure the topic remains at the forefront.
“We also understand how powerful our voice is, and so even if we’re back to playing, we understand that our voice can still be heard, our message can still be screamed loud and clear on an unbelievable platform, so just know that you’re going to continue to hear us,” said Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder guard and NBPA president. “Just know that. It’s never a shut-up-and-dribble situation. You’re going to continue to hear us and see us.”
Paul later detailed to ESPN’s The Undefeated that the jersey notion is indeed part of a length list of plans the players have to spotlight racial justice during the forthcoming games.
“People are saying that social justice will be off everybody’s mind in Orlando,” he said. “With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”