The Whiteboard: ‘All suggestions welcome’ as NBA ponders its return

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images /

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has always been a tad more open-minded than other league commissioners. He handled the Donald Sterling scandal with the severe punishment it deserved, vocalized the commonly held belief that sports betting should be legalized and regulated by now, and he’s been open to a number of rule changes and protocol tweaks to try and make the game and the league a better all-around product.

Silver isn’t perfect by any means (with the NBA’s China controversy being the latest example), but he’s extremely conscious of the league’s image and its need to be more forward-thinking. He’s a perfect fit for this modern association, which houses the most accessible and personable professional athletes in the world.

Novel coronavirus was an unpredictable pandemic that’s shut down every major sports league in action, but as they all try to prepare for an uncertain future, with no set timeline for when this period of quarantining and social distancing will be over, at least the NBA knows Silver will be prepared for every possibility.

On Wednesday evening, the commissioner appeared on a TV interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, answering a lot of questions about what the NBA’s potential return to action will look like.

Silver laid out three options:

  • Option 1: Restarting once it’s okay to have thousands of fans in the same place again and they’ve worked out all the possible dates with home arenas
  • Option 2: Restarting, but without fans, once it’s confirmed all the league’s players and staff are safe
  • Option 3: Putting on an exhibition game to raise money for charity and fill the public’s need for televised sports with a subset of players who have been isolated and confirmed to not have COVID-19

These are obviously very broad parameters, with no specifics on what these returns would actually look like. Would the NBA jump right into the playoffs or give teams a few regular season games to shake off the rust first? Would the playoffs be shortened at all? And when would the following season begin, if indeed this current campaign didn’t get completely cancelled?

Until we get a better grasp of the coronavirus situation and how it affects (read: determines) the NBA’s timeline, these are all plausible options to consider. But one thing’s for certain: Adam Silver is going to use this time to evaluate every possibility.

Remember, this is a man who has not been hesitant to test out fresh ideas, even when the NBA was still operating normally. Whether it was looking to other sports leagues for different perspectives (the mid-season tournament idea), trying to improve imperfect systems (curbing the draft lottery odds) or being unafraid to fail with rule changes that were worth a shot (coach’s challenges), Silver has always been exhaustive in his pursuit of the perfect basketball product.

Again, he’s not some perfect, omnipotent being. Quite a few of these ideas have fallen short of their intended purpose, and the NBA still has a number of glaring issues to address.

But this is not a man who’s afraid to test the waters with different ideas, and that’s all the league could ask for in a time like this that demands flexibility and open-mindedness.

The fundraiser idea is a new wrinkle Silver threw into the mix, and while a skeptic might construe it as a desperate attempt to make up for lost money and capitalize on a time when all other sports are dead, it’s also true that there’s an unmistakeable void in all our lives right now.

It’s been one week without the NBA, and without any other sport to turn to, the silence is deafening.

That pervading quiet is only going to grow more palpable as people stay home, schools close, restaurants switch to take-out only and we become increasingly more shut in. It’s what needs to happen right now, but all the streaming platforms in the world can’t keep a sports fan’s mind at bay forever.

To that end, Silver’s “all suggestions welcome” approach rings true. As the league commissioner, he’s the guy we expect to have all the answers, but the truth is, in these uncertain times, all the NBA can do is remain as malleable and prepared as possible for any scenario.

One could argue that all major sports should’ve shut down sooner, but as soon as Rudy Gobert tested positive, the NBA immediately did the responsible thing by shutting everything down. It was the first domino to fall, setting an example for the others to follow suit over the next 48 hours.

Nobody knows how long self-isolation will be the status quo in the United States. But when the day finally comes for sports to return to our lives and our televisions, you can almost be guaranteed Silver and the NBA will be leading the charge on that front as well.

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Adam Silver is planning for scenarios months into the future, but if you’re looking to scratch that basketball itch over the next month, the NBA and Turner are offering free access to League Pass until April 22. This includes all the games from this season, plus an archive of classic games.

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