The National Basketball Association has been trying to play its postseason in the Orlando bubble for a month. For now, the games will go on, and networks are breathing a sigh of relief.
Following a slate of postponed playoff games Wednesday night, the NBA players, led by Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, considered ending the unprecedented experiment. The boycott began when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic. The NBA then postponed Wednesday night’s three games as the sports world shook and other walkouts followed.
The Lakers and the Clippers reportedly led the charge to cancel the remainder of the playoffs during a meeting of players in the bubble after the postponements. The players decided to meet again Thursday morning, agreeing at this time to continue to play, though Thursday’s games are also postponed.
NBA executive vice president Mike Bass issued a statement that the league hopes to play Friday or Saturday. “NBA playoff games for today will not be played as scheduled. We are hopeful to resume games either Friday or Saturday. There is a videoconference call meeting scheduled later this afternoon between a group of NBA players and team governors representing the 13 teams in Orlando, along with representatives from the National Basketball Players Association and the league office and NBA Labor Relations Committee Chairman Michael Jordan, to discuss next steps,” the statement said.
The Bucks are the team at ground zero after the latest explosion of protests stemming from Sunday’s police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., a town 44 miles south of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, plus the ensuing protests and riots.
Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers then opted not to play their game against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday night. The Seattle Mariners-San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants were also postponed. Black stars Matt Kemp and Jason Heyward also opted not to play, although the games including their Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs did happen. MLB was planning to continue with a complete schedule Thursday, including multiple seven-inning doubleheaders.
Additionally, the WNBA and MLS postponed games scheduled for Wednesday as well.
Blake, who is in stable condition but paralyzed from the waist down after being shot seven times in the back, is the latest unarmed black person to be shot by police. The protests in this country and around the world have been ongoing for months since the death of George Floyd at the knee of a policeman in Minneapolis.
The NHL has continued to play its Stanley Cup playoffs without incident in their twin Toronto and Edmonton bubbles. On Wednesday night, the league held a moment of silence before Game 3 of the Tampa Bay v Boston playoff series. MLB is trying to finish a 60-game season, during which multiple players on four teams—the Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, the Reds and New York Mets—tested positive, leading to weeks of postponements and reschedulings.
Stakes are high for the NBA to continue its season. According to Kantar Media estimates, the 2019 NBA postseason generated $972.5 million in advertising revenue for ESPN/ABC and TNT, while ABC took in another $290 million with its coverage of the six-game NBA Finals. (Those figures do not account for concessions the networks made to advertisers for underdeliveries.)
Disney and Turner Sports together shell out $2.66 billion per year for the rights to broadcast NBA games.
The league’s corporate partners are another piece of the puzzle. Outside of media revenue and ticket sales, big-ticket sponsors like State Farm, Nike, Gatorade and Kia are among the biggest slices of the NBA’s $8.8 billion in annual revenue. That’s especially true now—without fans, teams have leaned heavily on corporate partners.
On Wednesday night Sportico reached out to a majority of the league’s major partners to ask their thoughts on the strike. Only AutoTrader and Nike responded. Both said they backed the decisions by the athletes and that they were committed to fighting racial injustice in America.
(This story has been updated with a statement from the NBA and details of the league’s TV contracts and sponsorship agreements.)
-With assistance from Eben Novy-Williams and Anthony Crupi.