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April 04, 2020

Will NBA cancel season? Report says there's 'significant pessimism' about a return

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As more events are canceled with every day that passes, American sports leagues have so far tried to preserve hope that they will return at some point to give fans a welcome distraction. But it appears we are inching toward a scenario where sports continue on hiatus along with the rest of the world, with ESPN's Brian Windhorst reporting late Friday night that there was, "significant pessimism" in talks between the league and the players union at the moment.

Windy is not a big fan of "the aggregators" when he says things on podcasts or TV, so I will provide his full comments from SportsCenter below:

It's been a bad week. I think there was optimism about progress as of a week ago, and some things that have happened this week have turned it south about what can happen. A big factor was what happened in China, where they halted the return of their league and one of the big reasons is because they really believed if they just tested the players' temperature all of the time that it would work. The Chinese are finding that asymptomatic carriers are causing maybe a second wave in that country and they have just slammed the brakes on sports.

The talks between the players union and the league this week, I've talked to both sides of this issue, and it is clear the NBA is angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down. Now they don't have to do that yet, and the way they're negotiating they're leaving themselves an option either way, but they are not having talks about how to restart the league. They're having financial talks about what would happen if the season shuts down, and I think there's a significant amount of pessimism right now.

As someone who has stressed from the beginning that canceling the season should happen if this pushes too deep into the summer, this doesn't really come as much of a surprise. Trying to pretend that sports are immune to the impact of COVID-19 is part of what led to the sudden suspension of league activities in the first place, and every potential solution to the problem given the current state of affairs comes with its own set of problems. Each option, whether it is playing empty arena games or hosting at a TBD neutral-site location, has pitfalls that would be hard to avoid.

While this doesn't sound imminent, leaving the door open for a potential vaccine or improved testing to save all of our sanity, it certainly doesn't sound good. There is an ungodly amount of money on the line for the league here, between national television deals, local affiliates, sponsors, and alternative revenue drivers, so cancellation being at the forefront of discussions highlights how bleak the situation is.

In a follow-up question, Windhorst also tackled the impact of bringing the 2019-20 season back as it relates to next season — whenever that might be — and claimed that was part of the calculus for the powers that be.

There either comes a point where you go too far where you start to look at damaging two seasons, and that is what the NBA is trying to evaluate. They do have runway here, I do think if they had to could go into August or December to finish this season, but I'm not sure they feel confident about that right now.  A big factor is testing, we just don't have the testing. At some point, not only does it have to be a test that's quick and can evaluate whether a player is healthy enough to enter a game, you have to know whether you have the tests available so that you're not taking them away from people who need them.

Right now that's not here. If in six to eight weeks it is here, we can have a different conversation, but the league is preparing for that answer to be no.

It says a lot about the way public sentiment toward COVID-19 has changed over the last few weeks that the NBA would consider the taking-tests-away factor now, when at the start of this the league was able to secure more tests than pretty much anyone in America. Dozens of NBA personnel had tests taken and results released/leaked within days of the league shutting down, as many around the country struggled to get the same access.

MORE: Would a canceled NBA season help or hurt the Sixers?

This was a matter of some animosity in impacted regions around the country. Following the news that four Brooklyn Nets players had tested positive for COVID-19, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to suggest their access to testing should not come at the expense of other sick people.

"We wish them a speedy recovery," de Blasio wrote on March 17th. "But, with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick."

In the weeks since, NBA players and owners have chosen various ways to chip in financially to help fight against the pandemic. On Friday, Sixers center Joel Embiid teamed up with managing partners Joshua Harris and David Blitzer for a $1.3 million donation to Penn Medicine, money that will be used to fund antibody testing in healthcare workers on the frontlines. A day earlier, Al Horford announced he was donating $500,000 of his own.

“During this pandemic, many doctors and nurses are working like soldiers on the front lines of a war and they need to be provided with as much armor as possible in this battle,” Embiid said in a press release provided by Penn on Friday. “COVID-19 antibody testing can help Philadelphia health care workers at this critical time, and we need to do everything possible to help those heroes who are putting their lives at risk to help us.”

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