As the NBA developed and executed a plan to finish the 2019-2020 regular season and hold an entire postseason amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the league’s higher-ups were likely jealous of the amount of time that the NFL had to map out its protocols.
Now, it’s time to find out what the NBA learned during its time down in the bubble in the summer of 2020, and if they can make it through the 2020-2021 regular season without any issues.
Much like the NFL, the NBA took its time with many elements of its offseason ahead of arguably the most unique season in league history.
The schedule release was delayed significantly, with just three days worth of games announced on December 1 ahead of a December 22 start date, and only the first half of the schedule released three days later.
The league wrote in an announcement that the schedule for the second half of the year, spanning March 11 through May 16, 2021, would be released during the “latter part of the First Half portion of the schedule.”
A few days prior to the first half of the season’s games being announced, the league circulated its health and safety protocols, including the rules that someone must follow if they test positive for COVID-19 during the year.
According to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, if someone tests positive, “there are two paths to them returning: either going at least 10 days since the first positive test or symptom onset, or having two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart.”
The protocols guide also (somewhat) tackles the debate about what would lead to a suspension or cancellation of the 2020-2021 season, similar to the situation that postponed play during the 2019-2020 campaign.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, a section entitled “Circumstances for Cancellation of 2020-2021 season” states that the “occurrence of independent cases (i.e, cases not spread among players or team staff) or a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the 2020-2021 season.”
But, according to Bontemps, there is no specific answer or threshold related to what would force the league to suspend or cancel the season.
“Clearly, this is going to be something the NBA will be adjusting to as the season progresses, as we’ve seen both the NFL and MLB do over the past several months,” Bontemps wrote.
The NBA’s Competition Committee reportedly showed its support for another COVID-19-related measure, looking to increase the active player list from 13 to 15 to mitigate the impacts of positive tests on a gameday roster.
According to Wojnarowski, the NBA Board of Governors, consisting of commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s 30 team owners and representatives, “must give final approval to a move that makes sense given shortened season and concerns over COVID impact on rosters.”
The league is also looking to stifle any potential of the spread of the coronavirus away from the court, as well, according to a report from CNN.
The network stated that “NBA players and staff will be prohibited from visiting bars and clubs under new COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, according to a memo sent to teams Saturday ahead of the start of the 2020-2021 season.”
The measures reportedly include “bars, clubs, live entertainment venues, public gyms, spas or indoor gatherings of 15 or more people,” and say that players can only eat outside of their hotel on the road “if they’ll be dining at a restaurant approved by the league, outdoors or indoors in a ‘fully privatized’ space.”
And, while the league will be willing to drop the hammer as it relates to fines if teams rest high-profile players for nationally-televised games, ESPN reported that franchises will have more flexibility to do so for non-nationally-television games.
The decision comes as a result of the minimal time between the end of the 2019-2020 season and the start of the 2020-2021 campaign as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which created the shortest offseason in league history.
It also allows players added time-off if they wind up in a situation where they’re recovering from COVID-19.
While the NBA implemented tons of protocols ahead of the 2020-2021 season, the league will almost certainly follow in the MLB and NFL’s footsteps and update the rules as the season progresses and the pandemic continues to evolve.
But, for now, players will have to remain extremely vigilant as they adjust to a new normal for the basketball world.