By Mark Gallagher
NBA in a Bubble has been such a success — no positive coronavirus tests although no fans — that it may become the wave of the near-term future.
The NBA has pointed to Dec. 1 as its targeted start date for next season and obviously would prefer to hold games at teams’ home venues with fans in the stands. But that may not be possible.
ESPN is reporting that the league is developing plans for regional bubbles for next season if the conditions surrounding the virus don’t allow for a return to normalcy.
Teams could play one another at one site like the one currently assembled in Orlando. Competition would span about a month, and then teams would leave for a few weeks before moving on to the next regional bubble. This option — which was acknowledged on the record by NBPA executive director Michele Roberts to ESPN late last month — would buy time until it’s possible for fans to return to the stands. Sports Illustrated on Friday also reported about the idea of regional bubbles.
Ideas center on regional sites and windows of participation that would extend a month for teams, sources said. After that, teams would go home and train — perhaps for two weeks — and move onto the next regional bubble against a new pod of teams. Orlando is a consideration, and Las Vegas — a finalist for this summer’s restart — would reemerge as a possible site too, sources said.
Other options being kicked around if there can be no fans include playing games in team practice facilities or even neutral site games, per ESPN.
A Dec. 1 open for the 2020-21 season would allow for an 82-game regular season and a full slate of playoff games and still leave time for NBA players to participate in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, which are slated for July 2021. That would all come to fruition in an ideal world, but NBA officials are working on alternative plans — especially if it is unfeasible for fans to be in the stands in many cities around the country.
The start of the season could be moved to early 2021, per ESPN, if “a combination of vaccines, therapeutics and rapid-response testing for COVID-19 could contribute to the possibility of public gatherings.”
Without significant advancements against the virus, there is pessimism about the world’s top players — not just Americans — participating in the 2021 Games. The Olympics are “barely a priority” for NBA owners, per ESPN:
As the pandemic rages on, there’s less optimism about the elite players participating in the Olympics — including Americans and international stars. The NBA and NBPA will take positions that the Games are important, but the Olympics are barely a priority for the owners — especially when they don’t share in the television revenue that originates from the inclusion of the league’s superstars. Organizations see the wear and tear on players in whom they’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars. Amid a pandemic, the Olympics mean even less to owners, team executives and the NBPA.