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As sports leagues across the country wait out the coronavirus and contemplate what a return to league play might look like, there’s a perfect solution that could allow the NBA, uniquely among the major team sports leagues, to finish its season without requiring teams to travel around the country and risk infection by flying from one basketball gym to another.
Rather than try to play around the country or pick a few neutral sites to host games, the NBA should relocate the entire league to Las Vegas, put every team inside hotels the league exclusively controls, and play out the remainder of the season in gyms there. (This isn’t as easy of an option for the NHL given the need for multiple ice rinks, but the NHL could consider something similar, relocating to a place, Canada maybe, where there are multiple ice rinks in close proximity and they could set up a similar hockey bubble to protect everyone in the league. Major League Baseball and the MLS, since both are played outdoors, may have a bevy of options so long as they are willing to play without fans present. Overseas, the English Premier League is reportedly considering a soccer “bubble” in June and July to finish its season.)
But the NBA, thanks to the prevalence of basketball courts, has a tremendous opportunity to play its games in Las Vegas, broadcasting them around the world from sin city courts.
I know, I know, it sounds crazy to talk about finishing the NBA season in a location like Las Vegas, but there’s a tremendous amount of logic to the idea when you work through the thought experiment.
In fact, the league may already be considering it, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst recently floated the idea that the NBA was contemplating a college campus, Las Vegas, and an island in the Bahamas as options to finish out its season.
To restart the NBA is probably going to have to build a bubble. That’s what the Chinese league has been trying for weeks. The struggles there show how hard it may be to play basketball here: https://t.co/bar55d5kXg
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) March 27, 2020
So why does Las Vegas make the most sense?
Let’s dive in and discuss the idea.
First, the NBA is familiar with Las Vegas already, playing the popular summer league on Vegas courts. Second, all Las Vegas casinos are presently shut down for a month. That means no one in any substantial numbers will be in the hotels until mid-April at the earliest, effectively killing any virus that might exist in these locations. Third, there’s no guarantee the casinos will open back up in a month, meaning the Vegas casinos are likely to love the idea of anyone willing to stay there and take over the venues. Fourth, the casinos have ample suites and high end accommodations for players accustomed to the best lodging. Fifth, it’s probably unlikely the general public would be allowed into these casinos and hotels until late April at the earliest, meaning the leagues could potentially have a couple of months of solo occupancy in the hotels. When, or if, the casinos open back up to paying customers, the hotels could be blocked off from the casinos, not allowing anyone access to the rooms. Sixth, Las Vegas is a blue collar town and many of the workers presently unemployed as a result of the shutdown, would be ecstatic at the chance to take care of the league inside these basketball bubbles.
What’s more, presently Nevada is one of the least impacted states by the coronavirus in the country, with under a thousand cases overall. Las Vegas is also super hot in late spring and summer and right now experts on virology believe the coronavirus will transmit much less well once it becomes warm across the country. If that’s true, the hundred degree weather of Las Vegas would seem to be a perfect location for the NBA to center its league.
How would it work?
Here’s one possibility:
1. Have each player enter into a two week quarantine in a team hotel.
When each player arrives at the team hotel he would be tested for the coronavirus and to see if he has a temperature, if he has either the coronavirus or a temperature, he’s not allowed in the team hotel. If he does not have the coronavirus or a temperature, he begins his two week quarantine. Each day during the quarantine he’s tested for the coronavirus and for a temperature. (There are now five minute test machines available so this testing wouldn’t be difficult or time consuming.)
Additionally, each player’s blood would be tested for coronavirus antibodies to see if he may have already had the coronavirus, in which case the hope is he would be unable to contract the virus again. (This would be an interesting addition to public health knowledge to see what percentage of players have coronavirus antibodies. We know at least ten players would since ten out of the 120 players tested in the league have already tested positive for the coronavirus.)
If players would like to travel with their immediate families, those immediate family members could quarantine with them. If not, they’d need to be prepared to go (up to) a few months without being in direct contact with their families.
If some players didn’t want to finish out the season, they could elect not to finish the season and wait until the next season to play. The league wouldn’t force anyone to play or penalize anyone who neglected to complete the season. (Indeed, if a substantial percentage of players didn’t want to play, especially if they were big stars, then the NBA would probably be unable to play regardless. So this entire process would be predicated on the majority of the league’s players wanting to come back and play).
2. Once the players arrive in the Las Vegas hotels, having passed their quarantine, their temperatures are taken each day as they leave their hotel rooms to attend team meetings, practice or games.
If they have a temperature, they are sent back to their hotel rooms to receive medical treatment until they no longer have temperatures.
The hotels themselves are sealed such that only necessary league personnel and casino workers arrive and exit the hotel. And each person who enters the hotel has his or her temperature taken. Guests are not allowed. (Groupies trying to sneak into the team hotels would make a great reality show).
3. If a player tests positive for the coronavirus, the entire team and league doesn’t have to shut down.
This is significant.
A player might test positive for the coronavirus when the NBA returns. Indeed, this is the biggest fear of many when the return of sports is discussed.
“BUT WHAT IF A PLAYER GETS SICK AGAIN,” THEY WAIL?! (In fact, there will be a bevy of social media responses arguing this when I Tweet out this story, just go look if you want to be entertained. The number of people who feel compelled to Tweet responses to articles without ever reading the article is an absolute epidemic online.)
But here’s the deal: the data pretty soundly reflects that young, healthy athletes are in greater danger from the flu than they are from the coronavirus. That is, the flu kills far more people 35 and under world wide than the coronavirus has.
And what happens when a player gets the flu during the NBA season? We don’t shut down the league to ensure that no one else gets the flu, we just send the player with the flu out of the locker room to get healthy. (And often in the past, we haven’t even bothered to do that; we’ve allowed players to compete even with the flu. Remember the Jordan flu game?)
The hope would be that no player would test positive for the coronavirus because of the precautions undertaken, but if a player did test positive we’d simply pull them from the games, provide them with the best medical care imaginable, and treat them until they no longer tested positive for the virus. We’d also step up all testing of players on his team to ensure that it didn’t spread to other players.
Yes, it would stink if one or two of your best players fell ill and had to miss games, but every playoff season we deal with player injuries causing missed games.
While we’d hope there were no players who got sick, we couldn’t guarantee it. In fact, no league can ever guarantee that players won’t get sick. Indeed, every year it’s fairly common for multiple players, regardless of sport, to come down with illnesses.
But given what we know about the risk to young, healthy players from the coronavirus, we don’t need to shut down the league for one positive test.
4. There are at least four courts that could easily handle the practice and game schedules.
Those courts, among others, are the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, the T-Mobile Arena and the Thomas & Mack Center.
All of these arenas seat 12,000 fans are more, but the capacity of the arenas wouldn’t matter because the plan would be for no fans to be present. The games would be played primarily for a television audience, but each of these venues would have NBA quality courts and sight lines.
The only people necessary for the games to take place would be the players, the coaches, the trainers, health care workers, and officials.
The televised games could be called remotely by broadcasters from a live closed-circuit viewing feed, as happens already for many sporting events.
Games would start at nine in the morning and go all day long. The NBA would essentially turn into its own version of the NCAA tournament.
5. The NBA would have several options on how to finish the season.
You could play ten final regular season games and then eliminate the 14 teams that didn’t make the playoffs.
You could put all 30 teams into the playoffs, giving the top teams in the east and the west an automatic bye into the second round and having the other 28 teams play to advance 14 teams to meet the two teams with a bye in the second round, for a second round of 16 teams. If you didn’t want to have any byes you could eliminate the bottom two teams, the worst teams in the east and the west and let the remaining 28 all compete in the playoffs. (This opening round could be best three out of five to help get the teams back into playoff shape).
The point is, there are many different ways you could finish the season, all have advantages and disadvantages.
But the point is nearly half the league would be in Las Vegas for a month or less, free to depart as their teams were eliminated and the playoffs truly got rolling.
Then as playoff teams are eliminated, it’s would be like NBA survivor, they pack up their bags at the hotel and depart Las Vegas.
This means most players wouldn’t be kept from their families that long and you’d constantly be lessening the number of players left to compete for a title.
As the playoffs progress, moreover, the overall coronavirus threat in the country may well diminish substantially, which would allow restrictions on player hotels and visitors to be lessened.
Ideally by July the worst of the coronavirus outbreak will have passed, which would mean fans could even be considered for later playoff rounds in Las Vegas.
I know, it all sounds a bit crazy, but when you actually think about the particular details, it kind of sounds, dare I say, downright possible, doesn’t it?
And if this could end up happening, NBA action, at least in a sports starved nation craving a return to some semblance of normalcy, could once again be fantastic.