July Will Be Critical for Pro Sports’ Comeback

COVID-19 Impact on Sports
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

1) The return of the NBA in Orlando at the end of the month is going to be a major cultural moment, one the league and its media partners and sponsors will benefit from for a long time.

2) The return of the NBA is a reckless gambit bound to fall apart quickly once the virus permeates the league’s vaunted “bubble” and the league’s currently sterling brand will take a big hit.

Somehow these seemingly contradictory thoughts sit side by side in perfect balance right now. Which makes who will win the NBA championship a much less suspenseful question than whether there will even be a championship.

The NBA isn’t the only league gulping hard right now, either. Major League Soccer plans to come back even earlier, on July 8th; Major League Baseball may kick off a condensed 60-game season on July 23rd. NBA, NHL and more will soon follow.

July will be the month when even the best laid plans will be put to the test. As coronavirus cases surge in dozens of states, the pro sports world couldn’t have picked a worse time to start ramping up, even though they had the best of intentions.

But if the “bubble” experiment bursts, and there is disease or even death as a result of this league reassembling under such unusual circumstances, no amount of precaution these leagues actually took to keep themselves healthy will seem enough.

The prospect of that worst-case scenario has to keep league commissioner Adam Silver up at night. But if Silver pulls it off successfully, he will be a hero.

Given the league’s track record, you have to give the NBA the benefit of the doubt that they’ve done the homework to make this Orlando experiment work. I’ll certainly be rooting for its success.