The National Basketball Association confirmed that it expects to return to play this summer, the latest big-league sport to pivot back to an active season after being shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, the league’s Board of Governors approved a plan under which 22 teams would each play eight regular-season games in Orlando, according to a league statement. The league will then move quickly into post-season play. The return is worth millions of dollars in advertising and subscriber fees to two big media companies, Walt Disney and AT&T, each of which have years-long rights deals to show NBA games on ESPN, ABC and TNT. Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad spending, estimates $200 million of national TV advertising fell out of the market due to the absence of pro basketball games.
The NBA has tentatively scheduled July 31 as the date to resume play. The NBA Draft Lottery would be rescheduled for Aug. 25,with the 2020 NBA Draft held on Oct. 15. And the next season would start within weeks. The league scheduled the 2020-21 season to commence on December 1 this year.
“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in a prepared statement. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts. We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
The NBA has not played a game since March 11, when concerns about athletes getting coronavirus and spreading it among teams forced it to suspend its season. NBA spokespersons were not able to respond immediately to a query seeking comment.
The NBA and Walt Disney Co. said last month that they had entered into talks to re-start the league’s season in late July, with teams centered around Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Disney World. That facility appears to be a central part of the plan. On Thursday, ESPN posted a series of graphics on Twitter celebrating the return of the league.
The NBA joins the NHL and the NFL in articulating a strategy to return to play. Their plans are not guarantees: all the sports require close contact among multiple players and coaches, and skepticism remains that any sports league can predict a new schedule with confidence.
But other sports bodies have already returned to the field. Nascar has held races without fans. PGA Tour golf events are expected to resume later this month.
The 22 returning teams for the season restart would be the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards, the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns.