For a minute just think about the complexities of what Adam Silver is trying to do by bringing 22 teams together into a bubble to salvage the NBA season. Silver to this point has done a masterful job navigating the stresses of the coronavirus and the latest round of racial injustice that has occurred during the past couple of months.
I bet if you survey sports fans across North America who they think the best commissioner has been over the past couple months in major sports I’m sure Adam Silver would win in a landslide. There would be no need to recount any hanging chads.
Silver’s historic decision to try to return the NBA during a pandemic is a monumental task that must be executed correctly in order to ensure players’ safety. Look, in basketball, everyone touches the ball, the players don’t roll around the court with helmets on their heads. Their uniforms don’t have pads and cover-up 90% of their bodies and basketball players never wear gloves on the court.
The safety measures that the NBA is putting in place are clearly well-thought-out and at least give Silver and the NBA a chance to complete the season.
Last week the NBA released a 113-page document that covers how the Walt Disney World bubble will work and the protocols that will be followed. The document covers everything from what players will have access to in the bubble to what happens if someone tests positive for COVID-19.
It should be noted that the NBA has also set up a significant prescreen and self-quarantine process that all players, coaches, and guests will have to follow in order to gain entry into the bubble.
Silver is not only dealing with COVID-19 but is also dealing with the equally important racial injustice issues that have rolled across America. The reality is many players do have concerns about entering the bubble and many players have voiced their concerns about returning to basketball because of racial injustice.
Dealing With The Issues
As much as I want to see someone win an NBA title this year, it is totally understandable that players would not want to risk playing basketball in a bubble and would not want to play hoops with all the racial issues that still need to be resolved. The opinions expressed by the players on both of these topics can not be taken lightly and do need to be addressed in order for the NBA to move forward.
To that point, Silver has on paper addressed how the league will deal with Covid-19, however, the racial injustice issues are far more complicated to get right.
Silver’s decision to not force players to return and still be paid is the kind of modern leadership that major sports leagues need in order to maintain their leagues’ presence during such uncertain times.
“Not surprisingly, there’s not a uniformed view among those players,’’ Silver said. “My sense is we’ll be able to work through most of those issues the next few weeks. We also have an arrangement with the players association where if a player refuses to come, it’s not a breach in his contract. We accept it.”
Silver Addresses The Issues
“Listen, it’s not an ideal situation,” Silver said of the challenges the NBA is facing in an appearance on Monday night’s The Return to Sports special on ESPN. “We are trying to find a way to our own normalcy in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of essentially a recession or worse with 40 million unemployed, and now with enormous social unrest in the country. And so as we work through these issues, I can understand how some players may feel, that it’s not for them … it may be for family reasons, it may be for health reasons they have, or it may be because they feel — as some players have said very recently — that their time is best spent elsewhere.”
“Things are changing around us,” Silver later added. “The social unrest in the country was — in the same way we never could have predicted the pandemic would unfold, in the way it has — what’s happened since George Floyd’s death is also unprecedented. I’m incredibly sympathetic and empathetic to what’s happening in people’s lives. And in the midst of all that, to say, ‘We’re looking for an opportunity to restart this league, to try to move forward with crowning a champion,’ it’s not top of mind for a lot of people.”
The Financial Impact
“A lot of people pointed to the financial component of this,” Silver said. “The incremental difference between, at this point, playing and not playing, isn’t nearly as great as people think, especially given the enormous expense in putting this on. Really, it’s more a sense from the entire NBA community that we have an obligation to try this, because the alternative is to stay on the sidelines … in essence, give in to this virus … For us, we feel that this is what we do: We put on NBA basketball. We think that for the country, it’ll be a respite [from] the enormous difficulties people are dealing with in their lives right now.
“And in terms of social justice issues, it’ll be an opportunity for NBA players in the greater community to draw attention to the issues because the world’s attention will be on the NBA in Orlando if we’re able to pull this off. What should this league, that may have a unique opportunity as compared to almost any other organization in the world, be doing in response to George Floyd’s death, to endemic racial issues in society? I’ve heard this loud and clear — the statements have been issued, foundations have been announced, contributions. But there’s an expectation that there’s more that this league can do; and I think part of it’s gonna require a fair amount of listening, something we’ve been doing already. But then engaging in very deliberate behavior, together with the players, in terms of how can we use our larger platform, the NBA together with the players, really to effect change.”
“I understand how some players may feel it’s not for them. It could be for a lot of reasons — family, health or maybe they feel as they’ve said recently their time is best spent elsewhere.”
While Adam Silver is not perfect, he should certainly be commended for striking the right tone with players, sponsors, team owners, and fans. To date, there have been over 120,000 deaths in the United States as of June 22nd due to Covid-19. The country has over 40 million people unemployed and we have witnessed millions of people taking to the streets to protest racial injustice.
As the coronavirus appears to be spiking yet again, the odds of the NBA bubble actually occurring is diminishing with every positive test by any athlete regardless of the sport.
While I’m not sure we will see an NBA champion crowned this year, Silver absolutely deserves praise for trying to make it happen in a thoughtful way.