The NBA is in talks with The Walt Disney Company about a single-location scenario for a resumption of play in Central Florida in late July, the clearest sign yet that the league believes the season can continue amid the pandemic of the coronavirus.
The National Basketball Players Association is also part of the talks with Disney, the league said on Saturday. Games would be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, a huge campus located on the Disney grounds near Orlando.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the talks were still “exploratory” and the Disney site would also be used for practices and housing.
“Our priority remains the health and safety of all concerned, 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,” said Bass.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a 255-acre campus with multiple arenas that could host games at the same time and where, in recent years, the Jr. NBA World Championship took place. ESPN, one of the NBA’s broadcast partners, is primarily owned by Disney.
Space won’t be a problem, even though Major League Soccer – which is also in talks to resume its season with Disney – is there with the NBA at the same time. The entire Disney complex is approximately 40 square miles in size, with nearly 24,000 hotel rooms owned or operated by Disney on campus.
The NBA suspended its March 11 season and became the first of the major U.S. professional leagues to do so after it was found that Utah Jazz’s All-Star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The list of NBA players known to test positive eventually grew to 10 – not all of which were identified – and Commissioner Adam Silver said last month that the actual total was even higher.
But the league has been working on numerous scenarios for returning to the game for several weeks, all with the proviso that testing would be an integral part of any resumption of the season.
It remains unknown where the NBA is engaged in securing tests or developing large-scale test protocols. Also unclear: how many regular season games would be played before the postseason begins – or if all 30 teams would play. The competition has asked the team managers for additional input on these matters.
Jared Dudley of the Los Angeles Lakers said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that he believes the playoffs when they start will be the traditional best-of-seven format.
“That’s the money winner when it comes to Disney,” said Dudley. “That’s why we’re in Orlando. Disney owns ESPN. They make their money there. During the playoffs and finals, it’s all seven games. I’m almost 100% sure.”
Central Florida is known as a viable option to host a restart of the NBA since at least mid-April, and other cities, such as Las Vegas, which also has a long-standing relationship with the NBA, were known to be considered as well.
Florida has confirmed just over 50,000 COVID-19 cases, although more than half of them are in the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach and not the Orlando region. Governor Ron DeSantis has said he wants to open up the state to professional sports, and even tell franchises not based in Florida to come to the Sunshine State to train if there are restrictions preventing it in their home country.
“Places are opening up. Let’s not forget that COVID isn’t magically less contagious now, ”Malcolm Miller of the Toronto Raptors tweeted on Saturday. “The virus itself didn’t get better … stay safe.”
Teams have been allowed to welcome players to their volunteer session training facilities since May 8, and more than half of the league’s franchises have taken up that opportunity.
The next steps along a return-to-play path would likely include easing the restrictions on those voluntary workouts – no more than four players are currently allowed in each facility – and then a plan for when training camps might open . If the league plans to resume play at the end of July, camps may open around the beginning of that month.
Rescheduling at least some games in the regular season can be a huge advantage for players, although some teams are not in the playoff mix.
The league may take in about 1.08% percent of a player’s salary for any regular season game that is not played, as what the collective agreement between the league and its players describes as a “force majeure situation”, the legal term for unforeseen circumstances such as an epidemic or pandemic are issued.
The more regular season games are played, the less money the players lose.