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March 11, 2020

Report: Neutral site games, cancellations on table for NBA in coronavirus conference call

In a conference call between the commissioner's office and the NBA Board of Governors on Wednesday, a number of scenarios — including neutral-site games, closed-door games, or the suspension of game operations — are on the table for the league as a result of coronavirus preparations, according to a new report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Here's the word from Woj, who says one of the scenarios includes moving games to cities that haven't suffered outbreaks yet (with the bold emphasis mine):

One of the scenarios introduced into the league's conversation includes moving some games to NBA cities that have yet to suffer outbreaks, league sources told ESPN. 

If the virus clusters and forces a team out of its city and arena for a period of time, there has been discussion on moving games to the away opponent's arena if that city hasn't suffered an outbreak -- or even moving games to neutral cities and sites, league sources tell ESPN. 

The NBA is discussing a number of possibilities -- including eliminating fans out from buildings for games or, more drastically, suspending game operations for a period of time -- but sources say decisions on those options remain complicated by the fact that there has been such a limited amount of public testing for the coronavirus in the United States. There is no full understanding of how widespread and debilitating the virus could become in the states. [ESPN]

The last bit of that quoted text is the only thing that matters here. Response in the U.S. has fallen well short of the examples being set in countries already heavily impacted by the virus. If we're being charitable, we could say testing is "still in early stages" domestically but a more accurate summary is saying the country is and was woefully underprepared to deal with COVID-19 — the first drive-thru testing facility for coronavirus only opened in the U.S. on Tuesday in Seattle.

The lack of widespread, high-volume testing makes it nearly impossible to identify a city that would fit the NBA's criteria in the first place. Even if that was a possibility, there's a pretty obvious reason for the NBA not to make that call. 

Bringing even small groups of people from cities where the virus has taken hold to places where it hasn't yet been reported is preposterously stupid on its face, so long as your primary interest is preventing the virus from spreading and causing a further issue. But the suggestion that this is on the table in the first place gives up that adequately responding to a public health crisis is not the league's first priority.

Following the money will rarely lead you astray, and as we noted when the league made the decision to move reporters out of locker rooms on a temporary basis, this all stinks of a temporary solution to keep collecting money at the expense (literally and figuratively) of the thousands upon thousands of customers they hope to continue luring to NBA games. Consider that the average person with coronavirus is reportedly symptom-free for an average of five days, and try to find a way where you can honestly look the public in the eye and say you can continue to safely hold NBA games, all while encouraging people to travel around the country to see their teams play.

At this point, the only sane option seems to be some form of closed-door games or postponement until a better understanding of the scope and impact of the virus is reached. The NBA is not unique in being impacted by the issue. But along with the other professional sports leagues, they have more responsibility to look out for the public interest at this moment than other businesses, as one of the few businesses in the world that brings tens of thousands of people together at a time into tight quarters with one another. 

Life will keep moving along if fans need to watch exclusively from home or basketball is put on hold temporarily. No one's constitutional rights are being trampled on, and I presume society will not collapse and we will get back to normalcy at some point when we can all enjoy hoops together again.

So hopefully someone on the conference call is smart and convincing enough to push the rest of the league in the right direction. 

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