The NBA’s return has already been met with challenges

JAIME C. HARRIS | 7/23/2020, midnight

Basketball fans are hungry for the NBA schedule to resume. It’s been over four months since the league suspended play on March 11 due the novel coronavirus. Once it was confirmed Utah Jazz All-stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive for COVID-19, with the tests results being revealed right before the start of the Jazz’s road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the aforementioned date, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s leadership understood they were facing an impending crisis.

Now that the NBA has resumed activity, with teams reporting to the aptly named bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Reunion, Florida right near Orlando, the prevailing question is will they make it through October 13? It is the day on which a potential Game 7 of the Finals will be played. In the short-term, the league is hoping to successfully reach July 30, when the first slate of regular season games will begin, without any major issues.

The NBA has stringent coronavirus protection protocols in place at the facilities in which players, coaches, and staff are training and housed. But they provide little certainty there will not be a prohibitive spread of coronavirus at the bubble that will reflect the alarming rise of recent positive cases in Florida. A single unintentional breach could be the catalyst. Case in point: Sacramento Kings forward Richaun Holmes was placed in quarantine on Monday after going outside the bubble to pick up a food delivery.

“After the initial quarantine period, I briefly and accidentally crossed the NBA campus line to pick up a food delivery,” Holmes explained in a written statement. “I am currently in quarantine and have 8 days left. I apologize for my actions…”

The league was also impacted by the disclosure that future Hall of Fame guard Russell Westbrook has tested positive for COVID-19. Westbrook and James Harden form the dynamic core of the Houston Rockets,who are considered to be one of the top contenders in the Western Conference.

Star players contracting coronavirus is a crucial concern for the NBA, especially those on the teams expected to be at the forefront of the battle for the title. Principal among them are the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Commissioner Silver has not publicly stated what would definitively precipitate another shutdown and admitted in a Time 100 Talks discussion on June 30 there is ambiguity in regard to what will quantitatively be considered a substantial spread at the bubble.

“I’m not sure,” Silver said in response to the question. “We have a panel of scientists, doctors, experts that are working with us. We’re going to see as we go…Certainly, if we have a lot of cases, we’re going to stop,” he warned.

“You cannot run from this virus. I am absolutely convinced that it will be safer on this campus than off this campus, because there aren’t many other situations I’m aware of where there’s mass testing of asymptomatic employees. So in some ways this is maybe a model for how other industries ultimately open.”

The Basketball Tournament, held at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and broadcast on ESPN, held its championship game this past Tuesday night. And while it was only an 11-day event, taking place from July 4 through July 14, and did not go unscathed as several players in the 24-team, single-elimination competition tested positive for COVID-19, it serves as an encouraging tangible model for the NBA.

All true NBA fans are rooting for their success. But each day will be the cause of hope and anxiety for the stakeholders endeavoring to make the return fruitful.