The NBA should abort its Disney World restart

I love the NBA. I've loved it since I was 9 years old. But as much as I'd love to see games resume, there are two very good reasons why it's time for the NBA to abort its attempt to restart the 2020 season.

The first and most obvious reason is the COVID-19 situation in the United States and in Florida specifically. At the time of writing, there have been approximately 114,000 confirmed cases in Florida, and as has been widely reported, confirmed cases have recently surged. Extrapolating the chart of confirmed cases in Florida out by one month, to around the time of the NBA's tentative restart date, makes for depressing viewing. It also seems incredibly unlikely that confirmed cases will miraculously decline in any material sense over that period.

The NBA is big business. It directly and indirectly employs thousands of people, the majority of whom do not make anything like the eye-watering salaries that the players take home. For these people, the NBA is their livelihood, and I understand that many of them are almost certainly doing it tough right now. But there is a reason why other businesses have been put into hibernation in many jurisdictions where COVID-19 has run rampant: as a society we have, for the most part, made a decision to prioritise lives over economic gain (or even economic stagnation). The virus does not discriminate, it does not waver, and no person or organisation, not even the NBA, one of the best managed sporting leagues in the world, can guarantee that those who would congregate at Disney World would be safe from it. The worst-case scenario is of course that someone loses their life due to the restart. Are we willing to pay that price? Surely we can't be. 

The second reason is slightly more subjective. An NBA championship is a wonderful thing, the culmination of 10 or so months of hard work and dedication to a common goal by players, coaches, trainers, medical staff, equipment staff, front office staff... the list goes on. At the same time, it is the apex of a team's supporters' sense of connection to their team. But as a fan, and as a fan of a contending team, I can't say that I'm terribly excited at the prospect of the LakeShow winning a championship in a 'bubble' tournament at Disney World in October, in an empty or near-empty arena, while the world around us continues to lurch from one COVID-related catastrophe to the next. Some fans will call me crazy. That's okay. But I can't shake the feeling that this championship would have an asterisk the size of Shaquille O'Neal attached to it when we reflect on the history books down the track.    

Each NBA season has a certain momentum to it. There's the initial exuberance on opening night, which slowly fades as the league rolls into mid-December. Then the Christmas Day showcase arrives and reminds everyone that the season is up and running. There's the January period through to the All Star break, when only the true believers are watching. The games in March and early April which give us an idea of who the contenders might be before, like an explosion of cannonfire, the Playoffs begin and all's right with the world. Along the way there's elation, despair and everything in between. You've been watching since October, you're ready for the Playoffs and this year, it's your team's year. COVID-19 has completely destroyed that momentum. Not only that, but it has made it unlikely that the NBA you remember from March will be the NBA you see in July. Certain players have already indicated that, for various reasons, they will not participate when the season resumes. An even larger number have apparently expressed serious reservations about playing, including because they may not be physically prepared. Therefore, teams may not look, feel or play as they did when we last saw them. Is this really how we want to crown a champion for 2020?

I understand that legacies can be defined by championships. For certain players like LeBron James, championships are all that matter now. LeBron has said he wants to play. He's an all-time competitor, so you'd expect nothing less. The thought of losing what may be one of his last best chances must keep him awake at night. But again, when all is said and done, would we really give full credit to any team that wins in Florida, and is someone's legacy worth potentially endangering the health and wellbeing of countless others?

The answer to these questions goes something like this: The NBA is a virtual monopoly with a first class product. The NBA will survive and it will return in one form or another. But the NBA is not what we need right now.


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