Just last week, the NBA and NBA Players Association (NBPA) agreed to a 72-game season that is slated to begin on Dec. 22, with the finals taking place in July. Despite the quick turnover between the bubble playoffs of the summer and fall of 2020, many veterans such as LeBron James have made their opinions clear about the season. This week, Karthik Iyer and Cole Stefan will weigh the pros and cons of the NBA’s 72-game regular season.
The NBA should begin the 2020-21 season to protect the finances of the league, adequately integrate rookies and take advantage of the opportunity to overtake other sports leagues through superior COVID-19 protocol management. Let’s break this down.
Choosing to start the NBA in January as the players association wants instead of the Dec. 22 deadline would cost the league over $1.6 billion. This is in addition to the $4.8 billion annual market loss the NBA will sustain due to its strained relations with China for the foreseeable future. These exorbitant sums of money affect the NBA bottom line and would have a trickle-down effect on the players and even the basketball product available to the fans themselves. NBA player productivity is evaluated with a metric known as basketball-related income (BRI). BRI represents the aggregated operating revenues received by NBA teams, the league itself and any ventures or investments where the league or any league-related entity has a minimum of 50% stake. This includes the NBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and other media revenue that basketball publicity directly produces. BRI is also a significant factor in determining the NBA salary cap. The salary cap is calculated by “multiplying projected basketball-related Income (or “BRI”) by 44.74%, less projected player benefits (like health and welfare benefits), and then dividing the result by 30 (the current number of NBA teams).” This figure includes maxes and mins for team spending which dictate player compensation structures via NBA escrow rates and player negotiating flexibility and competitive balance leaguewide between team markets of different sizes. Escrow rates refer to what percentage of money that the NBA can withhold from player salaries based on league earnings through the NBA’s CBA. With the NBA being projected to start Dec. 22, there will already be a spike in escrow rates of greater than 10% due to revenue being lost from still losing ten games, having competition with other sports leagues, international relations and more. This means that over 10% of player salaries will be deducted for team revenue sharing to keep the league solvent. To make it real simple, the less the players play, the less they get paid. The stars won’t be affected too much by this but what about the average player or even a rookie that needs to help his financially struggling family?
Second, league rookies require the games to get in tune with the offense. If stars are tired, load manage them. Fans will still be tuning into games to watch rookie prospects like LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman regardless, plus the plethora of stars that were either injured last season or did not make deep playoff runs will return fresh. Building this chemistry early in the season is critically important for teams and there is no reason to additionally deprive fans of more basketball. Also, who doesn’t want to see the Golden State Warriors return to basketball?
Lastly, the 2020-21 season is the opportunity for the NBA to show how it is the best run sports league in America. After recording zero cases of COVID-19 throughout the NBA bubble play in games and playoffs, the NBA has shown that leadership matters and that nobody has been more prepared than commissioner Adam Silver. This is in comparison to the other major American sports leagues struggling mightily to keep the virus in check. The NBA can capitalize on this opportunity and gain more fans, market share and publicity for the sport. The NBA is showing that it can be a leader in the sports world and keep its fans entertained during the socially isolating times of the pandemic.
There is no reason to start the NBA later than Dec. 22. Viva basketball.
Although a 72-game season is going to be quite something to watch while college basketball is being played, there are many things that need to be considered with regards to rushing things.
First, injuries. The NFL had a full offseason to work out solutions from COVID-19 cases to dealing with injuries. Their solution was simple: no preseason games and three weeks minimum on the IR. Their only problem with that was everyone from San Francisco 49ers’ defensive end Nick Bosa to New York Giants’ running back Saquon Barkley has gotten injured to the point where they will not return for the remainder of the season. Luckily, the NBA will have more time to practice before the actual games begin, however, there are not going to be any preseason games, I do not think, that will put the athletes in a gamelike mindset and deal with the hustle of this new style of the game. Like the NFL, there is the potential that every big name gets injured, which is something nobody wants, even if the injury is just a minor tear. Scrimmages are useful, but they are not going to have the same impact as preseason games.
Second, the veterans. The best player of our generation in LeBron James has made it clear that he does not want a 72-game season. His Lakers literally won the NBA championship last month, and the quick turnover means they will be back to training in less than two months after winning a title. That might sound weird in nature, but consider that in a normal society, the NBA rests over the summer and returns in late October, a span of over three months off. Things seem rushed; the 71-day turnover between two seasons would be the quickest offseason in history. Just to add insult to potential injury, veteran Danny Green believed veterans might not show up if the season started before January, which is the plan.
Finally, it just seems rushed. People will be excited to have the NBA back, but like other sports leagues and quick returns, especially the MLB almost as soon as Rob Manfred instituted a 60-game season, there can be disastrous consequences. There might not be a bubble this season, but that does not mean that there won’t be any COVID-19 cases. The NFL and MLB can make us sure of that. Moreover, Canadian teams like the Toronto Raptors need a place to play if the travel ban set by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is still in place. The Toronto Blue Jays did not know where home was going to be until the season had already started. That could potentially be the case with the Raptors, who are considering Nashville amongst other destinations.
I understand that the NBA’s return will be a great pre-Christmas miracle, but isn’t it a little bit rushed?
I am going to address my man Cole’s points here before circling back to my own. It seems to be that Cole’s arguments revolve around injuries, veterans not wanting to play because of not having enough rest and potential rises in COVID-19 cases. Let’s discuss why all those points, while valid to sports in general, don’t apply to the NBA.
First of all, the lack of preseason in the NBA is largely irrelevant. The bubble allows for adequate practice facilities as teams and has been shown effective through the play-in games and playoff tournament. We witnessed some of the best basketball we have ever seen in this year’s playoffs even after the brief hiatus. On the other hand, the average NFL player has a 4.1% chance of sustaining energy that will cause him to miss the following game. Additionally, the severity of injuries in the NFL is in another stratosphere. According to several medical studies reported by the Verge newspaper, “Eighty-seven percent of the players had CTE. Breaking this down, this included 99 percent (110 of 111) of NFL players, 21 percent of high school players, and 91 percent of college players. The more professionally someone played, the more severe their head trauma.” The NBA game is less injury-prone and commissioner Adam Silver has seen to it that proper training facilities and medical staff are provided to minimize the risk of injury.
While the word of NBA stars and veterans like LeBron James carry weight, it doesn’t make a Dec. 22 start to the 2020-21 season unfeasible. The NBA is notorious for load management so LeBron could effectively sit the first month of the season with minimal consequences, especially because Anthony Davis and others could hold down the fort in the meantime. There are several young players and stars who have not played deep into the playoffs in the previous season that would be rearing to play. The NBA would not miss a beat and the excitement would persist anyway. Even with the stars resting, the NBA would remain exciting and profitable.
With the sample size available, there is no reason to believe COVID-19 cases would spike in a 2020-21 NBA bubble just as they didn’t in the finale of the 2019-20 season. Comparing the NBA management of the pandemic to the MLB and NFL is actually disrespectful to the job that commissioner Adam Silver and company have done in creating a safe environment to field an NBA season. The NFL has no system and loose protocols and the MLB wasn’t scheduled to have any bubble-like set up until the postseason. Teams in both the NFL and MLB have also been caught violating league protocols. Are we really surprised why their management hasn’t been effective?
All three of the concerns Cole points out are not applicable to the NBA, justifying a Dec. 22 NBA restart for the financial and opportunity-based reasoning I provide in my case.
Look, there is a lot that needs to be said in addition to what you had to offer in your rebuttal. Yes, the bubble was one of the best ideas ever, do not get me wrong. It prevented the issue of people getting COVID-19. Despite some incredible basketball moments, all of which were done for Kobe, the ratings of the NBA Finals were historically low, over 5 million viewers to be exact, which was a free fall by over 45%. The reason I do mention ratings here though is because if less people were watching the NBA playoffs, then that means that even less people might watch the regular season because there tends to be more hype heading towards the playoffs than at earlier stages of the regular season.
If superstars such as LeBron James and Anthony Davis are being benched for the first month, rest is important I understand, but won’t that be like wasting money on somebody to do absolutely nothing? No offense to these superstars, their talents are elite, but isn’t the main purpose of watching a huge sports game to see the matchups between big name superstars and rising rookies? Without the superstars, who are the rookies going to learn from and will they be able to develop properly? Like the ratings I mentioned earlier, if a game is not featuring an elite player like LeBron James or Luka Doncic, then what is the point of watching a game where there might not be a big play? Some superstars like Trae Young might not be affected here due to not playing over the summer, but big names like Jimmy Butler, who was a key piece of Miami’s Finals run, sure are.
Finally, I do not see the COVID-19 cases spiking in a bubble and the NBA will do everything in their power to make life like the bubble in all 28 NBA cities. However, even in the Orlando bubble, players such as Darnell House Jr. were caught violating league protocols. I understand that it is players, but players can spread COVID-19. Even if it is just one person, one person can cause consequences detrimental to a season’s success. Above all, no one has even heard what the NBA’s plans are if someone gets a positive COVID-19 test. The last time they did it, they shut down the league—what about now? It is different for everybody, but the risk still exists of contracting COVID-19, which will make a lot of players consider their options and just what they are putting themselves into.