The National Basketball Association is in another bubble for the annual All-Star Game Sunday night in Atlanta, but rest assured the league is not anticipating a campus situation again for the upcoming playoffs due to the coronavirus, Commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday during his annual state of the league press conference.
Silver also said he doesn’t anticipate mandatory COVID vaccinations for all the players when those shots become available for their age group later this spring.
Finally, the commissioner said that he and the owners anticipate that a full 82-game. schedule for 2021- 22 will begin next fall and put the league back on its annual pace, although all international regular season and preseason games will be put in abeyance until the following season.
Those are irrevocably tied together, depending on how vaccines tame the virus.
“The plan is still schedule [next] season as close to normal,” Silver said about an October start and a June finish. “Frankly, I’m fairly optimistic that we’ll be able to start on time. Roughly half of our teams have fans in our arenas right now. And if vaccines continue on the pace they are we’re hopeful we’ll have relatively full arenas next season.”
It couldn’t come too soon. Last year as the pandemic began to sweep across north American and basketball players tested positive, Silver halted the season on March 11, waiting until July to open the bubble playoffs sans fans in Orlando, which concluded after two months with the Los Angeles Lakers defeating the Miami Heat in six games to win the NBA title.
The current 72-game season began on Dec. 22 with most teams not hosting paying customers. The league thus anticipated 40% loss of revenue, Silver said in his conference call just prior to the season beginning. Those losses continue to accrue, Silver said Saturday, although he declined to put any figures on it.
“The long-term health of the league is very solid,” he said. “But between last year and this year we’re looking at considerable losses. Generally we don’t talk about that publicly because teams are largely privately held and we’re not suggesting that’s anybody else’s issue, but ours. Last season and this season has required a significant investment by the team owners. They accept that.
“Players will take a reduction in salary this season because they are our partners with the league on revenue. League executives and team executives have taken a haircut on their salary. But I think when we all step back we feel very fortunate to be working under these circumstances and my sense is that the players feel the same way.”
As far as vaccinating the players are concerned, Silver said he wasn’t aware of any taking a shot yet. Unless one is an essential worker, most people being vaccinated in the U.S. right now must be 65 years of age or over. Pro athletes aren’t considered to be essential workers.
The issue of vaccinating the players must be collectively bargained with the NBA Players Association, Silver said.
“First of all, there’s no player I’m aware of who’s been vaccinated yet,” Silver said. “No. 2, there have been some coaches as well as team personnel who’ve been vaccinated because it was age appropriate under the protocols and the jurisdictions in which they live. As far as the education process, that’s ongoing. But those are personal decisions.
“I don’t think every player has to be vaccinated for fans to come back. That’s not anything health authorities have suggested to us. And we have no plans to mandate that players get vaccinated. For any large scale vaccinations to take place, that can only happen with the Players Association. And so far all we’ve talked about is education. But the protocols we have in place are incredibly burdensome. My hunch is most players will choose to be vaccinated.”