Almost three months after Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the 2020 NBA season was halted, the league announced its formal plan to return to action. Twenty-two teams will converge on the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando and engage in an abbreviated eight-game regular season wrap-up and ensuing playoff series. A league champion will be crowned no later than Oct. 12. Huzzah!
What is perhaps most monumental about the NBA’s return is its blatant disregard for any previous formalities. Gone is the remainder of the standard 82-game season; the league didn’t even bother inviting eight of the 30 teams to Florida. Their proclivity to adapt is admirable and because of it, the NBA is slated to be the first major American sports league to return to action. Meanwhile, the NFL is digging in its heels, screaming “16 games or bust!” while its star players are still coming down with the virus. Don’t even get me started on the MLB.
From an entertainment standpoint, part of the appeal is simply the novelty of it all. How will an eight-game season look and feel? I imagine tensions will near or even equal those of the postseason, essentially adding more than a whole playoff series to the viewing docket. As a casual NBA fan who usually only intently watches during the playoffs, I am excited to see what these “tune-up” games have in store.
Sports are the lifeblood of America. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans consider themselves “sports fans” and a 2014 poll by 60 Minutes revealed that only 10 percent don’t watch any sports at all. The country has been sportsless for so long, and the majority of the nation is clamoring for any form of competitive action. (I, myself, have resorted to cheering on household insects struggling to carry meager cookie crumbs or dodge my haphazard magazine swats, but ANT-ony Davis and Ka-FLY Leonard don’t quite have the same allure as the real things.) The NBA restart is important not just because it represents a return to sports normalcy, but it will also serve as a necessary diversion from current events.
Recently, it was reported that Kyrie Irving, star guard for the Brooklyn Nets and outspoken opponent to the league’s Florida reformation, would sit out the league restart. Irving’s concern lies not with the possibility of contracting the coronavirus, but rather that the NBA would serve as a distraction from the ongoing issues of racial injustice and police brutality.
The NBA has stated that it aims to use its “platform to bring attention and sustained action to issues of social injustice.” While this is an admirable claim, the sports sphere has left much to be desired when dealing with this topic. For example, the NFL’s recent reversal on its stance towards Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality does little to ameliorate the damage done or convince both the players and public that the league’s conglomerate of (almost exclusively) old, white male owners actually understand and support the black community. Irving makes a valid argument: What happens when we put down our signs and abandon our protests in favor of foam fingers and fantasy drafts?
It will be interesting to see how the NBA — and other leagues — respond to and deal with this issue. Players have previously used their in-season platforms to protest injustice, and where they were met with resistance and punishment before, they may now be encouraged to promote social and political change.
Perhaps this is narrow-minded, but I simply miss sports, and I really don’t care what form in which they return. I am excited to see the battles for the eight-seed play out; I am eagerly awaiting the championship team lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy. Beyond that, I am anxious to watch NFL rookies like Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow take the field for the first time and find out just how the NHL plans to orchestrate its wild playoff tourney. But does the entertainment value outweigh the risks to player safety and the potential overshadowing of the social justice movement? That’s an issue with which not only the players and the league but the public at large must grapple as the seasons draw nearer.
Maybe we need a little Disney magic to make everything happen, but if so, the NBA chose the right place to play.
Jeremy Markus is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He currently serves as a senior editor on The Sun’s board. He can be reached at [email protected]