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NBA

The Next NBA Season Is Coming, Hell Or High Virus

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 11: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in Game Six of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on October 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

After careful consultations between franchise operators and players, and with the indirect connivance of the rest of sports, the National Basketball Association has essentially cemented a Dec. 22 season opener, a Dec. 1 training-camp start date, and all the other calendar flotsam and jetsam they can cram into these next 46 days.

If only this were a good idea.

Of course, this is all COVID-dependent, and COVID is working harder than Steve Kornacki on a crank-and-espresso bender, but it’s the plan everyone involved seems to have agreed to follow, despite the fact that the nation’s collective health is taking yet another battering despite the healing properties of Donald Trump’s extended expulsion from office. This means a lot less down time for the league’s various LeBrons in exchange for the chance of more money now and have a normalized 2021–22 schedule, when the real gouging to make up the money they lost this year begins. The operators are even trying to stash their richest clientele in suites in case repopulating the plague ships of floor seating turns out to be too daunting a task.

But somewhere in these negotiations, which lasted only as long as the competitive aspects of Packers-49ers, it must also have dawned on Adam Silver, Michele Roberts and the other characters that the election can’t last forever, the virus might, NFL and college football aren’t going to carry the entertainment load if the Niners and Wisconsin are any guide, and network television is as rancid as ever. After a summer in which we had way too many distractions to process properly, now we are running low. Not even Kanye West’s 2024 Presidential campaign can keep us from a winter of collective catatonia, and the NBA knows that a drowsy viewer is a lousy viewer.

Nobody needs a lecture on how the NBA is a business. The team owners made that ridiculously clear with their 22-team restart designed solely to make up some of that semi-precious regional TV money, and their helpful leaks about how much money they didn’t take in (as opposed to actually lost) because of the clipped season. Whatever attempts at pity that was supposed to engender (and most folks responded by saying, “Go lose your job, then pop off”), the reality soon set in that America didn’t care if Jimmy Dolan had to sew his own socks or Tilman Fertitta had to churn his own butter to keep his restaurants supplied. (UPDATE: People still don’t care.)

But unlike baseball, which clearly wants to provoke another strike/lockout/collusion case by systematically savaging contracts while ignoring the potential damage of its rogue superspreaders, and football, which is doing a devil’s dance with the virus that it tried to defy by pretending through some of its less-brained coaches that it didn’t exist at all, basketball is choosing the path of least resistance: Just do it and take your chances.

The NBA plan seems rushed, given that COVID is reaching unprecedented levels of nastiness. Just as their other other sporting compatriots tried to defy the relentless nature of the virus and its own death lineup, the NBA is steering directly into the teeth of the disease, and for the same idiotic reason everyone else in the business did: Because money is still out there not being funneled into their bank accounts. 

In a departure from the bubble, which the league takes credit for even though the players are the ones who made it work, the new season will operate in 30 locations in 22 states with 22 different sets of rules, and that doesn’t even count wherever the Toronto Raptors are going to end up if the Canadians can’t get an Alberta-based rapid-testing plan for international travelers up and running. That medical development could open the border and eliminate the need to stick the Raptors in Newark, as well as the NHL’s tentative plan to create an-all Canadian division that could end the Toronto Maple Leafs’ streak of behaving like the Maple Leafs. But if the NBA starts while Santa is still in the air, the NHL will want to do so not long after, though the two sports have remarkably little crossover other than arena dates.

Once again, we mere mortals are trying to make the virus conform to our calendar rather than the calendar to the virus, and while we were distracted watching Trump deflate like a bouncy castle in a hailstorm, the disease is back in the saddle and riding high. But since we never want to learn anyway, let’s tempt fate again. After all, there are four quarters of Jets-Patriots coming Monday night, and if anything they will suck far more than Packers-49ers. Steve Levy won’t even get you through halftime before you are jonesing for basketball again. Just because football still wins ratings battles doesn’t mean the product isn’t shrinking like an orange in the sun.

Quality? Well, that’s a subjective measure one uses to imprecisely measure the level of artistry and technical skill in a specific endeavor. We don’t much bother with that any more. We have throwback jerseys to take care of that.