Normalcy next season? Maybe.
And that is a BIG maybe.
Cautiously optimistic, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held his
annual All-Star Weekend news conference on Saturday and addressed a
number of topics -- from officiating (the refs are hearing things
they normally would not hear) to vaccine plans (no players have
received them, to the best of his knowledge) to 18-year-old players
potentially being allowed back into the draft in the future.
But the overriding theme was Silver’s hesitancy in making any
grandiose planning statements that would be out of touch with the
reality he faces on a daily basis.
“One thing we’ve all come to understand over the last year is
that the virus is firmly in charge," Silver said. "We need to
adjust to circumstances as they present themselves.”
Nearly a full year after the basketball world and the world at
large effectively shut down and went into hibernation mode, the
coronavirus pandemic continues to impact all manner of planning
decisions, short-term and long-term. Silver more or less parroted
what we have heard from governmental leaders and health authorities
as the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people live their
lives: the future will be better and there will be something
resembling the norms we took for granted, but putting a specific
timeline on it may end up just being an exercise in
So, Silver would not do it.
Like a player with a stubbed toe, the commissioner is
And you know what? He doesn’t have a choice. But that is
actually what made his nearly hour-long news conference somewhat
refreshing. The man clearly knows that of which he speaks, even if
he lacks some of the extroverted mannerisms of his late
predecessor, David Stern. But Silver has been running the show for
seven years now, and he seemed cautiously optimistic at best that
the NBA will be back to playing in front of sold-out arenas by
sometime next season.
As for this season?
There won’t be any bubbles for the playoffs, and if a playoff
team becomes infected during the postseason, there is really no
plan for what might happen. In all fairness, neither Silver nor
anyone else in the NBA are at fault for being unable to anticipate
all possible eventualities, but it was telling that Silver was
explicitly asked what would happen in such an instance and had no
He responded to that very pointed inquiry by rambling about the
benefits of getting vaccinated. Although getting vaccinated has its
benefits, the answer did not address what many would consider to be
a bit of a doomsday scenario. The planned playoff schedule is
tight, which allows the postseason to conclude just in time for
players to participate in the Olympics. An unexpected outbreak
would bust up that timeline.
Maybe Silver didn’t answer because he does not know the answer
-- the guy has learned how to think and adapt on a day-to-day basis
for nearly a year now -- but the non-answer to a very fair question
left us pondering yet another “what if?”
And so, the long, dark winter continues for the NBA
The monotony of the season will be broken up by Sunday night’s
All-Star game, but even that received blowback from some of the
league’s top players -- at first they weren’t going to have one,
and then the plan was changed. That brought forth criticism from
LeBron James himself, the face of the league. But Silver took it in
“It would be incredibly hypocritical of me to say to LeBron
[James] that you should speak out on issues that are important to
you, but not ones when you’re critical of the league," Silver
“We’re all part of a community. I respect him and his point of
view. Also, at the same time, I appreciate his professionalism. If
you had a chance to see him -- as captain and general manager of
his team -- proceed with the draft, he did it in good humor. He
took it very seriously. My sense is he’s going to be here, as he
always is, as a top-notch professional and engaged in the
At the end of the day, it will be a blessing to have something
to deflect our collective attention.
One thing we tend to forget about All-Star games is that they
actually often get interesting by the time the fourth quarter rolls
around, as long as the game is competitive. And that is something
that will be refreshing to see, because mid-winter regular-season
NBA games without enough “it” teams to focus on can seem pretty
run-of-the-mill. The All-Star break is typically a reset that
prepares everyone for the good stuff that lies ahead, and we’re
eventually going to get that the same way we got great basketball
from the bubble last summer when every single game was
This will be LeBron James’ 17th All-Star game, and he has
started each and every one of them. Zion Williamson, 20, will
become the fourth-youngest All-Star ever behind Kobe Bryant, James
and Magic Johnson, respectively. This will be the 70th edition of
the game, which is a kick in the head to those of us who covered
the NBA’s 50th All-Star game in Cleveland 20 years ago. Back then,
49 of the 50 players who were honored as the greatest in league
history in 1996 attended, with the deceased Pete Maravich being the
only one missing.
The best we can hope for, especially in this particular season
of the quick whistle, is a tight game that inspires players on both
teams to play some defense -- a lost art due to rule changes that
have made the sport too offensively oriented. Anyone who has
watched more than a smidgen of games this season has noticed the
preponderance of ticky-tack fouls and quick-tempered officials
whistling too many technicals, something Silver attributed to being
a side-consequence of the work quarantine protocols that everyone
in the community is following.
Silver even used the term “shorter fuses.”
“In terms of the data, which we obviously look very closely at,
there’s nothing aberrational happening, whether in terms of
accuracy of calls or number of technicals on the floor. But I will
say everyone is under enormous pressure this year," Silver said.
"The officials aren’t exempt from that. They are also operating
under our sort of work quarantine protocols.
“One of the things we’ve learned over the last year is that the
mental stress is incredibly tough on everyone involved. I think in
some cases you have some younger officials, too, who maybe are
still trying to calibrate their relationships with players. So I’m
not particularly concerned necessarily with the calls on the floor.
I’m always concerned about the members of our larger community and
how they’re interacting with each other,” he said.
Referees, just like players and team officials, are quarantining
at home or at hotels when they are on the road. Too much
confinement and desocialization has discernable side effects, as
But at least he offered some hope.
“I’d say maybe for the first time in the past year, I’m fairly
optimistic right now that as we see fans returning to our arenas,
as we see public health officials across the country begin to open
up sporting events, theaters, restaurants, other forms of
entertainment, I feel pretty good that we’re going to continue
apace,” Silver said.
“By the time we reach the playoffs in mid-May, things will even
be considerably better than they are now. Also, obviously here in
the United States, we’ve been making excellent progress in terms of
vaccinations. That will be very helpful in getting people back in
But he said nothing about full capacity, which should serve as a
reminder that pandemics do not last weeks or months. They can last
years. Anyone who tells you exactly when normalcy will return does
not know what they are talking about.
So we have what we have.
Six of this year’s All-Stars are European, where players often
turn pro as teenagers. That was something Silver noted when asked
about the recently announced startup league that would pay high
school age players, which left you with the distinct impression
that Silver does not seem to have a problem with it.
Whether he and the NBPA will do away with the one-and-done rule
anytime soon is a gray area, despite Condoleezza Rice leading a
commission that recommended the one-and-done rule be removed.
Silver and NBPA director Michele Roberts have met personally with
Rice to hear her thoughts, yet the issue somehow remains in the
realm of collective bargaining when it probably should just be a
mutually agreed upon change invoked immediately.
But one thing we have learned over the past year is that nothing
is immediate. We all have to wait this thing out, and having an
All-Star game Sunday night is better than having no All-Star
If all goes well, we have an NBA champion and an Olympic
champion by mid-August, along with free agency and a draft and a
normal September with training camps.
All we can do is hope that we get there safely and stay sane
along the way.