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Gary Washburn | On basketball

NBA commissioner Adam Silver unsure when or if the season will start again

NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended play March 11 after Utah center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the coronavirus.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The usually affable and talkative commissioner Adam Silver didn’t have much to say Friday after the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting produced no updates on when or whether the NBA season will resume.

The league’s owners met with infectious disease specialist David Ho, who told them that there still isn’t enough information to determine any timeline about a potential return. So the league will continue to wait.

Silver suspended the season March 11 after Utah center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the coronavirus. The league has not allowed players access to practice facilities and on the eve of when the NBA playoffs would have begun, Silver was a man without many answers.

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“No doubt there is a fair amount of angst [among owners] because at the end of the day they’re like everyone else in the United States, Canada, who is dealing with a shelter-at-home protocol,” he said. “I think they’re more frustrated around the larger societal issues. I’d say these are people who also see an opportunity for the NBA to be a leader. I think we all know we were one of the first businesses to shut down at the beginning of the pandemic recognition in the United States.

“I think there is a sense that we can continue to take a leading role as we learn more in coming up with an appropriate regimen and protocol for returning to business. I think there’s a recognition from them that this is bigger than our business, certainly bigger than sports, and that there is great symbolism around sports in this country, and that to the extent we do find a path back, it will be very meaningful for Americans.”

But Silver offered no date for when the NBA can begin taking steps toward a return. Last week, he told TNT’s Ernie Johnson that the league wouldn’t make any decisions before May 1. But privately the league is racking up potential scenarios for a return, even if that means pushing back the start date of the 2020-21 season.

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Again, Silver reiterated, the league has no idea whether those plans will come to fruition.

“There’s a lot of data that all has to be melded together to help make these decisions,” he said. “But that’s part of the uncertainty. I think we’re not even at the point where we can say, ‘If only A, B, and C were met, then there’s a clear path.’ I think there’s still too much uncertainty at this point to say precisely how we move forward. I’ll add the underlying principle just remains health, safety, and well-being of NBA players and everyone involved. We begin with that as paramount and then the decision tree moves forward from there.”

The encouraging sign, if there was any, is that league ownership appears determined to finish this 2019-20 season, which could mean pushing the playoffs into the winter or playing games in one central location. But again, Silver had no specifics.

“My sense of the NBA team owners is that if they can be part of a movement to restart our economy, that includes the NBA, they almost see that as a civic obligation,” Silver said. “I think though on the other hand there is no appetite to compromise the well-being of our players. In terms of priorities, if you begin with safety, we’re not at a point yet where we have a clear protocol and a clear path forward where we feel that we can sit down with the players and say, this is a way to resume the season. Without that we really haven’t engaged in discussions about whether or not it’s better or worse to begin focusing on next season.”

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Silver repeated what had been reported earlier Friday, that players will accept a 25 percent pay cut beginning May 15, following the terms of a rule in the collective bargaining agreement that was agreed upon several years ago in case of a pandemic.

And the players are hardly the only ones losing money. The owners are currently bringing in zero revenue from their NBA teams while arena workers are currently on furlough or unemployed.

“Our revenue in essence has dropped to zero,” Silver said. “That’s having a huge financial impact on the team business and the arena business. Of course, it’s part of our jobs to project out into the future what that will mean for the NBA and the team business as we go out into the summer and then into the fall. There is a strong recognition that there are thousands of jobs impacted by the NBA, not just the players and the basketball staff. When you include the day-of-game arena workers, the NBA is responsible for roughly 55,000 jobs.”

Silver, a man who has been about solutions to major league issues during his six-year tenure, had no answers for the next move.

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“That goes to my earlier comment about recognizing that while this virus is of course a dire public health issue, so of course is shutting down the economy,” he said. “I think it’s why the league sees it as our obligation to the extent we can resume play in a safe way to look at every potential way of doing so. That’s what we’re doing now.

“It frustrates me that I’m not able to say, ‘If we do A, B and C, therefore we can jump the ball.’ As I’ve said, we don’t have enough information to do that.”