DALLAS — We’re back.
At least that is the feeling that sports is giving us these days. At least that’s the guidepost I am using for the purposes of this column. After three months of almost nothing — the last NBA game was played on March 11 and college basketball tournaments basically canceled the rest of the calendar the next day — we are suddenly drowning in schedules.
And that’s a wonderful thing (again making the grand assumption that everything will go well and these games can actually be played).
The best golfers in the world will be in Fort Worth next week. The best college football players in the world (OK, pretty much the only ones) are returning to campuses this month. The NBA has the framework for a schedule. The NHL is very close to having the same for its wildly ambitious 24-team Stanley Cup playoff. The NFL contends that it always has been and remains ready to go this fall.
We will excuse Major League Baseball from today’s discussion while the great minds that represent ownership and players shove each other around the schoolyard and, in quieter moments, debate whether or not their March agreement did or did not consider games being played without fans.
Even without baseball, you are about to be smothered in sports if the various leagues and conferences pull this off. The NBA’s plan is the most ambitious, quarantining more than 1,000 players, coaches, staff and media members in Orlando. Those that stay all the way through the Finals will be isolated from the rest of the world for a full three months.
If the NBA Finals goes the distance, then Game 7 will go head-to-head with Chargers-Saints on Oct. 12. Advantage NBA, although you never really like to go up against the NFL no matter who you are. Either way, the fans are the winners. And look at some of the other presumptive choices leading up to that big night.
If we assume the NBA is playing every other day to get this compressed playoff schedule finished by Oct. 12, then Game 5 of the Finals goes up against Tom Brady’s Bucs vs. the Chicago Bears. Game 3 takes on the Eagles-49ers in a Sunday night game. If the NBA adjusts these dates for any reason and has a Finals Game 3 on Saturday, Oct. 3, instead, it could be battling Baylor-Oklahoma or Penn State-Michigan.
The NBA’s conference finals will be up against golf’s U.S. Open scheduled for Winged Foot in New York. The projected end of the NBA’s second round of playoffs (weekend of Sept. 12-13) might run up against Texas-LSU on Saturday night and Cowboys-Rams in an NFL season opener on Sunday night.
As for the Mavericks, we know games are to begin on July 31 with playoffs starting in mid-August. So if they pull off the first-round upset of the LA Clippers or Denver (easier in Orlando? Discuss among yourselves), they could present a first-time choice between watching a Mavericks playoff game or a Cowboys game.
Weird. But nice.
None of this is meant to knock the NBA or question its decision to go head-with-head with almighty football. There was no choice in this matter. The only choice was to figure out how to play games during a pandemic, and give the NBA all the credit in the world for having coordinated a plan, one that is massive in scale and requires a great deal of finger-crossing to achieve.
The biggest surprise of the plan that Commissioner Adam Silver revealed Thursday involves the offseason. Don’t blink, or you will miss it. At least that’s how the two NBA Finals teams will feel as they try to catch their breath before the start of the 2020-21 season.
With Game 7 set for Oct. 12, the draft is slated for Oct. 15. This is a league that doesn’t need three months and five Mel Kiper mock drafts to complete the process. Then free agency starts on Oct. 18. It’s entirely possible a player will win an NBA title with a team one week and join another team the next.
The new season is anticipated to start on Dec. 1. A short turnaround? Look at it this way.
Game 7 of the NBA Finals is scheduled to be played the day after the Cowboys play their fifth game. And before the Cowboys play their 12th game, the NBA will be back in swing for a new season.
In other words, the message has been sent to the players. Unless you’re one of the eight teams not invited to Orlando, you have just had your offseason. It’s time to get back to work.
It’s all crazily ambitious. And we can only hope when this NBA plan takes off at the end of July, it’s all systems go and full speed ahead.