The NBA is in the early stages of discussions with the Walt Disney Co. to restart its suspended season in late July at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, a league spokesman said Saturday.
The restart, said Mike Bass, the spokesman, would be at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which would act as “a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing.” ESPN, which is owned by Disney, is a broadcast partner for the NBA.
“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place,” Bass said in a statement.
The NBA was among the first major sports leagues to suspend its season March 11 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, beginning a cascade of other leagues doing the same. Since the postponement, several NBA players, including Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, have tested positive for the virus.
In recent days, all states throughout the country have started reopening their economies at various paces. President Donald Trump has urged sports leagues to find a way to restart, something many NBA owners and players have been keen on with billions of dollars at stake.
“We want to get sports back. We miss sports,” Trump said last weekend. “We need sports in terms of the psyche of our country. And that’s what we’re doing.”
There are still several hurdles that must be crossed before a resumed season at Walt Disney World becomes a reality. One is the optics of testing. The league was criticized when some of its teams were able to obtain tests for their players even though there was a nationwide testing shortage, raising questions of greater accessibility for the wealthy.
On Tuesday, Bass said that, “Regular testing will be key in our return to play,” and that the league wanted to ensure that it “does not come at the expense of testing front line health care workers or others who need it.”
Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told The Athletic earlier this month that he would not be willing to bring his team back unless all members of the team could get daily testing.
Any return to play must also come with a green light from the NBA players’ union. A spokeswoman for the union did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is also unclear what the logistics of such a return would be, such as how many, if any, fans would be allowed into an arena for games, how freely players would be allowed to move around or what kind of testing would take place.
The games would almost assuredly be run without fans in the stands, as has been the case for some other recent sporting events in golf and soccer. Any return to play would also have added risks for players or team personnel who have underlying health conditions, or for people older than 65, a group that includes three head coaches.
When the NBA came to a halt in March, the league had completed roughly 80% of its season. The league Saturday did not say whether it would play the remaining regular-season games or jump straight into the playoffs. (Bass did not immediately respond to messages seeking additional information.)
The NBA’s board of governors is scheduled to have a call Friday, and teams are expected to start recalling players to team facilities in early June. Teams have been informed that they will likely be allowed to have about 35 members of the team — between staff, players and coaches — at the site, according to three people briefed on the league’s plans. Some teams typically travel with more than 50.
At least one player, Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, has raised one of the issues the league and the union will have to navigate if the league, as some have suggested, returns and goes straight to the playoffs.
“If we go 16 teams directly to playoffs do those teams get paid more for the risk and carrying this years revenue after Corona and China?” Dinwiddie, who is not the designated players’ union representative for the Nets, posted on Twitter, referring to the loss of revenue from the league’s rift with the Chinese government.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which opened in 1997, is a multisport complex covering more than 200 acres in Kissimmee, Florida, and is part of the Orlando-based Walt Disney World Resort. It has routinely hosted several basketball events, including college invitationals, AAU tournaments and the Jr. NBA World Championship.
The NBA’s announcing its attempt to finish this season comes weeks after Major League Baseball formalized a proposal from owners to salvage its own season — one that would last 82 games with an expanded playoff field. The league’s plan has run into heavy resistance from the players’ union over its salary structure. Like the NBA, the MLB’s revenue comes in no small part from fans in the stands.