The NBA is roughly 50 days away from its proposed restart and legitimate reasons exist why the wait is that long.
It’s not all about training camps and getting players fit, although that’s certainly critical.
Mostly, as Mavericks’ vice president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said, it’s because sports has never had to deal with life-and-death realities like this.
Basketball is back, but a lot of hurdles are in front of the return and some could be very challenging to clear.
“We’re trying to get it right, as a country, as an organization and individually,” Nelson said. “Listen, it’s just baby steps. Every step, you’re measuring the risk to your players, your family. We’re all measuring risk.
“Death has never been on the table before. In sports, think about this, show up and if you’re unlucky, you might not make it. I mean, there’s always a heart attack or lightning that can strike. But think about that. As an organization, for our fans and our family, death has never been on the table.”
That’s the fact that comes along with the COVID-19 crisis that the NBA has to take very seriously and that fans have to understand is at the very foundation of being able to resume the season.
That season was stopped on March 11. The Mavericks were 40-27 and in seventh place in the Western Conference. If everybody associated with the league isn’t convinced that safety is assured for everybody when the bubble begins at Disney World in early July, the season won’t happen.
One thing the NBA has on its side at the moment is time. Things are changing by the day and nobody knows how quickly things could improve (or not) with regard to the coronavirus.
“I’m ready. I’m ready,” owner Mark Cuban said. “Safety first, as always. But obviously the science is improving, the testing is improving. Hopefully we’ll get to the point where there’s a vaccine and that will give us more confidence. And we’ll start playing games July 31st. I’m excited about that. It’s my birthday. It’s going to be a great birthday present.”
To illustrate how many steps must be covered before the NBA is actually back, Nelson explained what the Mavericks’ practice facility looks like right now.
“Currently it’s one player, one basket, one heavily masked coach,” Nelson said. “I think as soon as we get a step beyond that, it’ll give the players confidence.
“We have to get to two-on-two, three-on-three and eventually five-on-five. We have, like, a month and two weeks to get there. Right now, it gets pretty old when you’re sitting there and those poor coaches, they can barely breathe, man.”
Another question is whether now is the right time to have the NBA make its return.
Protests since the death of George Floyd have prompted protests and marches and uncomfortable conversations about race have become the new normal for whites.
“On one hand, it’ll be a great diversion from a lot of this,” Cuban said. “It’ll give people something to get excited about and cheer about. But on the other hand, we have to make sure it’s not too much of a diversion so we stop having these important conversations.”
But, the bottom line is that none of the basketball will happen if it is not deemed to be played in a safe environment.
While accommodations will be made for players, coaches or staff that develop a positive test for COVID-19, it will be difficult to stay on top of who else might be impacted by such a positive test.
“This is almost like learning how to swim,” Nelson said. “It’s like you got your daughter or son and you’re going into the pool and you’re checking: can you dog-paddle? Every guy in the locker room is like a son to Mark and to all of us.
“You don’t enter the baby pool thinking that Junior might not make it. There’s a one-in-whatever chance that there’s a weird reaction. Those are the kind of things that go through my head. We’re all measuring risk. Think about our country and our sport in the last two months. It’s crazy.
“Safety, safety and safety – guys in the locker rooms, coaches and families.”