Success for the NBA in Dealing With the Coronavirus Surge Comes Down to One Thing—Survival

James Harden and Kevin Durant have been some of the players sidelined due to the NBA's COVI-19 protocols. Image: Nic Antaya/Getty Images.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, even in these times of increased scrutiny amid the rising coronavirus numbers among players, exudes confidence that this storm like so many others the NBA has faced, will pass. But as we’ve seen, the coronavirus and its variants present a different, far more challenging foe to the league than it has ever seen.

This isn’t trying to get a league-wide dress code instituted, or an attempt to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.

The NBA is trying to navigate an 82-game season within the framework of a virus that has killed millions across the globe. The coronavirus has impacted all facets of society and sports, bringing pro leagues to a pause or worse—a screeching halt.

No matter how many tweaks the league will make to its COVID testing, or how many games are postponed or players sidelined, none of those band-aid approaches will stop the incessant bleeding away of this season.

Which is why the metric for NBA success this season can be summed up in one word: survival.

That has to be the mindset of the NBA right now, on all levels.

Usually Christmas Day games in the NBA are must-see television for the league, a time when the best and brightest stars showcase their talent before a national audience. But the impact of the coronavirus has cooled off much of the sizzle that usually surrounds the five games that are on slate to be played this year.

Two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks was placed in the league’s health and safety protocol on Dec. 14, which puts him razor-thin close to being available for Milwaukee’s Christmas Day game against the Boston Celtics.

Of the 10 teams scheduled to play on Christmas Day, eight have players in the league’s health and safety protocol.

What’s traditionally a platform on Christmas Day to see the NBA’s A-List talent perform, has the potential this year to look more like a G-League showcase or free agent tryouts with several star players in the league unable to play which affords lesser-known, end-of-the-bench talent an opportunity to play.

All part of the league’s plan for survival.

And those opportunities will indeed be among the highlighted talking points the NBA would love for there to be more conversations centered around.

Putting as positive a spin on where things are, is what the NBA and other professional leagues are supposed to do at a time like this. But as the number of NBA players placed in health and safety protocol rises, no one should be surprised by the idea of the league shutting down temporarily gaining momentum, especially considering the NHL has shut down all its games between now and Christmas.

But Silver maintains that the NBA has no plans of putting a pause on the season— not now, at least.

“We, of course, looked at all the options, but frankly we’re having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now as we look through these cases literally ripping through the country right now—putting aside the rest of the world,” Silver told Malika Andrews on ESPN’s NBA Today show on Tuesday. “I think we’re finding ourselves where we knew we were gonna get to for the past several months. And that is, this virus will not be eradicated, and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. I think that’s what we’re experiencing in the league right now.”

And that is why what you see now in the league— players entering the health and safety protocol; games needing to be rescheduled; rosters flush with 10-day contract players
—isn’t going to change.

The NBA has consistently been the most progressive sports league around. And yet Silver’s words and the league’s actions overall, have a stand pat feel about them.

Looking down the road, there’s no path the league can take that won’t involve the painful reality that winning at this point will have a different feel and look to it.

Financial spreadsheets often tell the story as to how well the league is doing. Attendance numbers, the number of sponsors not to mention social media metrics speak to the league’s success as well.

But none of that matters most these days.

Getting through this rough patch, while minimizing the overall damage along the way, is what this season has to be about going forward for the NBA as it tries to do the only thing that matters at this point—which is survive.

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