Did NBA Commissioner Adam Silver do the right thing?
By shortening the season to 72 games? By having players test for COVID three times per day on game days? By keeping NBA headquarters closed? By expanding the play-in tournament? By pushing the Finals to a month when so many people are on vacation?
“Boy, you know, in terms of what we did right and wrong, as I said earlier, I think it's too early to make these judgments, because I think it may turn out that things I thought we did right, turn out to be completely wrong,” Silver said at the NBA Finals in Phoenix at his annual postseason news conference.
"...Maybe it will take a few years in hindsight to really look back on this season to really understand what we did right and what we did wrong...I mean, certainly at this point, looking back on the last-year-and-a-half, the Bubble seems to have been very effective,” Silver continued. “In terms of this season, whether we started it at the right time and whether we were right to conclude by July 22, I still maintain that, balancing all these various issues, that was still the best outcome out of a variety of unpopular decisions, that it was the best way to balance those factors.
“But it's unclear and I accept the criticism. It's part of the job, whether it comes from players or the media or others, and we'll see.”
Such is life as the head of an $8 billion business that has had to fly by the seat of its pants since March 2020, when the Coronavirus changed the way we all work, live and socialize. The worst of the pandemic seems to be over in the United States, but various countries around the world remain in lockdown and are still fighting a life and death battle with COVID, an invisible enemy.
There are no easy answers in terms of what is the best thing to do moving forward, and different regions of the United States have adopted different approaches, with the common denominator being a desire to have as many vaccinations as possible so that normalcy can return.
In terms of the NBA, normalcy would be a return to an 82-game season with full capacity at all arenas, along with a schedule that reduces the need for load management and rest, and gives players and team employees a decent work/life balance. Whether that is attainable remains somewhat of a mystery, with the Delta variant of the virus causing concern.
But NBA teams have been given the opportunity to have all of their players and staff vaccinated, and as a practical matter, what we are all learning is that the NBA is like society itself: There are the lives of the vaccinated, and the lives of the unvaccinated.
Many of the unvaccinated are in Toronto, where the Raptors would like to play next season after spending a year in Tampa.
But Silver is uncertain of that possibility because of jurisdictional issues with the Ontario government and Canadian health authorities, and whether cross-border travel will become as common as it once was.
“It's unclear yet. I know on behalf of Larry Tanenbaum, who is the governor of the team and happens to be the chairman of the board of the NBA, he's very hopeful that Ontario will open up and that they will be able to have the team back in Toronto. I know it's incredibly meaningful to the team,” Silver said. “I think there was that yet additional burden placed on the Raptors more than any other team by having to relocate for the season. But we are hopeful the team will be back if things continue as we're seeing in Canada right now.”
Silver acknowledged the rest and load management had been more pronounced during the past season than I seasons past, and he was uncertain if that was a good thing, too.
Less playing time for the superstars who drive interest in the league has a multitude of impacts, perhaps most significantly whether basketball will continue to be able to compete for the interests of fans who can easily turn to pro football, baseball, soccer, hockey and other sports.
“Load management isn't just a function of how many minutes in a game a player plays, but what other burdens they're putting on their bodies when they're not playing and how hard they're training and what they're doing in the offseason,” said Silver, whose predecessor, David Stern, was extremely anti-load management.
“So nothing could be more important for our league than keeping -- especially a league where stars drive so much of the interest -- of keeping them on the floor longer. So my only thing on load management, sometimes I think people just accept, to me, in a sort of non-scientific way that load management works. It's just not all that clear...”
Silver also said revenues were down roughly one-third instead of the 40% that was expected because of the empty arenas that teams had to deal with throughout the regular season.
The only fix will be a return to normalcy. And as we have all learned, the new normal is not necessarily normal.