CLEVELAND – NBA commissioner Adam Silver is optimistic the league can return to normalcy in the coming months after the pandemic took such a toll on teams and players during the past two years.
The NBA has been able to conduct its first All-Star Game with fans since Chicago in 2020 with no glitches. And 29 of the 30 arenas are allowing fans –except Toronto – and some clubs are reducing mask and vaccination restrictions.
“In terms of a post-pandemic NBA, we’re looking for something very much closer to the normal that we are familiar with, and we are beginning to see that already,” Silver said in his state of the league address at Rocket Mortgage Arena. “The regulations vary from city to city, state to state, but the teams have all managed to work through those issues, and fans have been eager to come back. I have done a fair amount of traveling over the course of this season, and as I said, I think people, a combination of missing that in-person experience, and also, not being able to enjoy the company of others, I think that’s always been part of an NBA arena experience, that ability to come together.”
Silver said COVID-19 will be an issue the league will have to continue to combat for the indefinite future. After a spike of the omicron variant, which claimed several Celtics players, the cases in the NBA have been greatly reduced; just in time for what should be an exciting playoff chase.
“I think, as I have said before, we all have to learn to live with this virus,” Silver said. “Based on what I have read and been told by our experts, it’s not likely to go anywhere. There will probably be other variants, at some point, but we now have tools to deal with those. Obviously, vaccines, boosters, anti-virals, et cetera, that didn’t exist when the pandemic started. So I feel that as a country, as a world we’re much better equipped to deal with it now.”
While Silver has been quoted as saying he does not understand New York COVID-19 restrictions that allow unvaccinated players from visiting teams to play in the city but not Knicks or Nets players, he is not lobbing the city to change its guidelines to allow Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving to play. Irving is unvaccinated is banned from playing in home games because of city mandates.
“I’m not sure exactly what will happen specifically there (in New York),” Silver said. “But as I watch what’s happening around the country, many of these restrictions are being lifted, and in places that had vaccine requirements and in some cases masking requirements, those are also being lifted. I haven’t talked directly to Mayor Adams about this, but judging based on what other communities are doing, my assumption is they will look at local rates of infection and testing. As those continue to come down, if they continue to come down as they have, my sense will be certain restrictions that are in place will be lifted. But, again, I leave that to New York City.”
LeBron James is playing in his 18th All-Star Game and first near his hometown of Akron, Ohio. James has vivid memories of the last All-Star Game here in 1997, where the NBA’s 50 all-time greatest players were honored. James, 37, remains one of the league’s top players and was the leading vote getter in the Western Conference.
“Obviously, I grew up 35 minutes south of here in Akron, so to be here for an All-Star Weekend with my family and friends just enjoying these last few days has been a pleasure,” he said. “My high school best friends and the guys that I played with throughout my whole life are out there right now with their families, so just paying it forward to the next generation.
“I remember in ‘97 when the last All-Star Game was here, I think I was 12 years old at that point in time. Me and my friends wishing we could come up here to Cleveland and to see the likes of Mike and all those guys that were in that All-Star Weekend. I remember seeing Kobe (Bryant). his rookie year, win the Dunk Contest, doing the East Bay dunk to win it, and just wishing that we could come up here and see any one of those guys as a youngster. So to be here 25 years later is a remarkable thing. It’s pretty cool.”
The NBA will honor the all-time Top 75 team during Sunday’s All-Star Game and several former Celtics are in town for the ceremony, including Robert Parish, Ray Allen, and potentially Bill Russell. Silver said between “50 and 60″ of the 75 players will be present … Team Cleveland won the revamped Skills Challenge as rookie Evan Mobley hit a halfcourt shot to seal it, edging a rookie trio of Josh Giddey, Cade Cunningham, and Scottie Barnes along with the three Antetokounmpo brothers, featuring former MVP Giannis.