Despite the apparent momentum toward the possibility of the NBA’s summer return, executives and agents are calling on the league office to cancel the season, citing health risks, uncertainty and dwindling financial incentives amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to CNBC’s Jabari Young.
However, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James questioned the validity of CNBC’s report.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver informed teams on Monday of plans to reopen practice facilities under strict guidelines where permitted as soon as May 8. Ongoing discussion of the potential for a single-site venue for the remainder of the season turned this week from Las Vegas to Disney World. The NBA has reportedly considered a rollout plan to resume basketball activity, starting with individual workouts, and Silver has said the league will be “ready to go” when given “the all clear.”
But some team executives and agents have serious reservations about the mixed messages the league is sending both privately and publicly by even considering a return to the 2019-20 season amid the COVID-19 crisis, much less the safety risks for players and team personnel, per Young. The cancelation of the current season would allow everyone to concentrate on a safe return to 2020-21.
According to CNBC, NBA owners are weighing the cost benefit of returning, since it would surely take place with no fans, and players have already agreed to a 25 percent pay cut starting May 15. The window to resume in time to complete a regular season is growing shorter by the day, and non-playoff teams are reportedly already resigned to losing local television revenue. There are also liability issues to consider by putting non-essential employees back to work during a health crisis.
“What [owners] are saying is, ‘If we return, where is the revenue that is going to justify the additional cost of returning?’” one team executive told Young. “They are looking at the cost side versus the revenue side. What revenue comes in now?”
Meanwhile, the NBA is eager to recoup lost revenue from national TV and sponsorship deals.
“It is the responsibility of the league office to explore all options for a return to play this season,” an NBA spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. “We owe that to our fans, teams, players, partners and all who love the game. While our top priority remains everyone’s health and well-being, we continue to evaluate all options to finish this season. At the same time, we are intensely focused on addressing the potential impact of COVID-19 on the 2020-21 season.”
This comes not 48 hours after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the coronavirus task force’s chief public health expert, told The New York Times that sports leagues may have to cancel their seasons without a rapid increase in testing.
“Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything,” Fauci told The New York Times. “If you can’t guarantee safety, then unfortunately you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘We may have to go without this sport for this season.’”
A return to the 2019-20 NBA season seems less plausible with each passing week. It also seems presumptive to outright cancel the remainder of the season with so much uncertainty around when improved testing will become more widely available and when efforts to curb the spread of the virus will yield more encouraging results. That appears to be LeBron’s stance. It may not be everyone’s.
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