LOS ANGELES • If the National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season resumes, it is almost “100 per cent” the games will be played without fans present.
According to ESPN, the league will very likely mimic the plan being used in China for a potential end to the current hiatus, which began on March 12 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
In China, ground zero for Covid-19 until the epicentre shifted to Europe and the United States, the plan for when the Chinese Basketball League (CBL) tips off again includes keeping players in a centralised, isolated location or shared hotel to limit chances for them to come in contact with any infected person.
Its teams are to live and play in a highly regulated environment, with the players’ temperatures recorded several times a day.
Fans will not be allowed to attend games, although it is hoped they can be granted permission to enter arenas at an as-yet-determined later part of the season.
The CBL has been on hold since Jan 24, but officials are said to be aiming to resume play by late next month, if not in early May.
Foreign stars like former NBA players Jeremy Lin and Lance Stephenson have already flown back from America to serve out the 14-day quarantine order as preparations for a restart enter their final phase.
Following the lead of the CBL, the NBA has floated several ideas, such as playing all the remaining games at a neutral site like Las Vegas, the Bahamas or even a college campus in the Midwest where the outbreak, to this point, has been mild.
Playing in non-NBA cities has also been explored and the plan would be to refit a casino or grand ballroom of a resort into made-for-TV events.
While Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James last week spoke out against the idea that NBA games could be played in empty arenas or without fans, telling the Road Trippin’ podcast that “he was not going for that”, analysts believe he has to accept there may be no other choice.
“If LeBron James wants to play for a championship this year he is going to have to reset his expectations,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said.
“That’s what China is looking at – clustering teams in a bubble where they can be protected. LeBron is the voice of the rest of the league. He’s speaking with emotion the way he sees it.
“The reality is, if the NBA comes back, at least in the short term, it’s going to be in empty arenas or empty aircraft hangars where they just put down a court…
“That’s something players are going to have to start getting their minds around.”