NBA Considering Restarting 2019-20 Season In July at Walt Disney World
On March 11, 2020 the NBA became the first of several pro leagues to suspend operations in response to COVID-19. In the following weeks, owners and players have negotiated over the proper way to resume the season.
After numerous reports came out over the last week detailing proposals about when and where the NBA might resume, the league announced that they officially are in talks with the Walt Disney Company about restarting the season at their at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, a massive campus on the Disney property near Orlando.
Originally, there were two potential plans to resume the season. One plan had the Western Conference playing in Vegas with the Eastern Conference playing at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports. The other plan had both conferences hosting their games in Orlando. Both proposals had the games being played within the Milkhouse Gym, the former site of the NBA’s Draft Combine. The NBA’s announcement confirms that the league is focusing on using one site rather than multiple sites.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the site would be used not only for games but for practices and housing as well. The plan was confirmed in an statement by NBA Spokesperson Mike Bass:
“The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing. 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.”
The NBA has a close relationship with The Walt Disney Company as they’re the parent company of ABC/ESPN, the league’s most important media partner, and their Executive Chairman, Bob Iger, has worked closely with commissioner Adam Silver during the COVID-19 pandemic. The size and infrastructure of Disney World Orlando, home of the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, makes it an ideal site to house all 30 teams in a somewhat controllable environment. The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a 255-acre campus with multiple arenas that could host games simultaneously and has been home to, among other things, the Jr. NBA World Championship in recent years. The entire Disney complex is roughly 40 square miles, with nearly 24,000 hotel rooms owned or operated by Disney within the campus.
Basketball games will always fundamentally look like basketball games on TV. How they sound, though, depends almost entirely on the venue. Watch a pickup game and you’ll hear trash-talk, the emotions of the game laid bare. Watch an NBA game and you’ll hear three hours worth of manufactured noise designed to keep you engaged with what you’re watching. The league is exploring ways to replicate that experience without fans. The Bundesliga soccer league in Germany has been piping in crowd noise. With your eyes closed, you can hardly tell fans aren’t present.
Piping in something meant to replicate NBA fan noise in smaller buildings might prove a bit overbearing for players, so adjustments would have to be made from an acoustic perspective. Ideally, the experience should be as close to what is typically presented as possible, so it will be up to the TV networks’ sound engineers to adjust typical crowd noise for that purpose.
As intriguing as silent games might seem, don’t expect them to become a reality. Players are allowed to talk trash with near-impunity in real games because television cameras can’t catch most of what they say. Teams nix most of the interesting audio to come out of players and coaches being mic’d up, so they are almost never caught saying things on the court that could get them in trouble with fans or advertisers. The union would never allow the league to remove those safeguards, and players shouldn’t be forced to sensor themselves in the heat of battle. External audio is going to be provided during these games. It’s just a matter of what that audio turns out to be. As far as fans, virtual fans will likely be used, so that when a wide shot happens the fans at home will see the appearance of a full stadium. Even if it isn’t.
The experience for announcers should remain largely unchanged. Most broadcasters have experience in calling games remotely, particularly those who have worked in radio. The voices of the playoffs should be familiar even if their surroundings are not.
Teams have been allowed to welcome players back to their training facilities for voluntary sessions since May 8, and more than half of the league’s franchises have taken advantage of that opportunity.
While front offices will likely lobby for the proposals that make the most sense for their respective teams, the ultimate decision on what is best for the league as a whole falls to commissioner Silver, though that is also dictated by advice from public health professionals.
There are still many details to iron out such as availability of tests for COVID-19, how hermetic a “bubble” would have to be to reduce the likelihood of new infections, and how many players/coaches/staff from each team would be allowed to attend. A spike in cases as states start to loosen stay-at-home restrictions, or any significant change in how the COVID-19 pandemic is playing out in the United States, could derail even the best laid plans.
The next steps would likely include a loosening of the restrictions for those voluntary workouts — no more than four players are currently allowed inside any facility at a time — and then a plan for when training camps could open. If the league plans to resume play in late July, then camps conceivably could open around the start of July.
Stay connected with Coaster-Nation!
MORE GREAT VIDEOS!