In wake of Jazz star Rudy Gobert's positive test for the coronavirus, the NBA had no choice but to suspend the season. The league reportedly will shut down for at least 30 days. But the NBA should accept the inevitable and cancel the rest of this cursed regular season. Bag the playoffs, too.
Every medical professional agrees that crowds are a terrible thing in a pandemic like COVID-19. There’s risk of infection from handrails, shared door handles or simply sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with other fans for hours. The NBA, sadly, was late in its response. On Tuesday night, the Warriors defied the city of San Francisco’s request and played (and lost) to the Clippers, officially eliminating Golden State from the playoffs. If that's not a non-essential public gathering, I'm not sure what meets the definition.
There’s no vaccine for coronavirus, but there’s huge value in slowing the rate of infection. So the NBA coming back for the playoffs in whatever form seems risky, and honestly, if ever there were a season begging for cancellation, it’s this one.
The 2019-20 season began with an earthquake in Las Vegas, a city not normally known for its seismic events, forcing cancellation of a night of the Summer League. That same night, Zion Williamson, the most exciting new rookie since LeBron James, suffered an injury that sidelined him until January. Then Houston GM Daryl Morey alienated China with a tweet, leading to the cancellation of preseason games and costing the league tens of millions of dollars.
Partly because of the absence of injured stars, the NBA has had a 15% decline in TV ratings. The Zion-less Pelicans were scheduled for national TV a lot, as were the post-dynasty Warriors, whose many TNT and ESPN games featured G Leaguers and undrafted free agents instead of the injured Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The Nets added Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant during the summer; Kyrie played 20 games, then was sidelined for the season with a shoulder injury, and KD played zero. On New Year's Day, former NBA commissioner David Stern died.
So it already felt like a doomed season when, worst of all, Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others died in a helicopter crash in late January. The Lakers postponed one game in the aftermath of the Mamba’s death, but it didn’t feel like enough for an entire league to mourn. It’s a cliche to say that sports aren’t life or death, but this season feels like a stark reminder of how trivial sports really are.
Let's face it, the last month of the season matters a lot more to the bottom line of owners and TV networks than it does to fans or the competitive integrity of the league -– the playoff seeds are mostly set, and no one cares about players’ statistical totals outside of analytics nerds and guys aiming for contract incentives.
Sure, the NBA could hold the playoffs without fans, but that doesn’t solve the issue of multi-city travel or non-basketball people, players and staffs interacting. Now that players are getting COVID-19 -- Utah star Donovan Mitchell confirmed Thursday he tested positive -- it doesn’t seem worth the risk to hold an NBA Finals.
In the long run, having a year without a champion obviously is much more preferable than the league being complicit in fans, players and officials getting sick from the coronavirus. We can do without the playoffs in this nightmarish season. It’s time to pack it in, maybe play some NBA 2K, go back to bed, and try things again for 2020-21.
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