Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday night that he has told people in the NBA that there will be no way for the league to make a decision about when it can return until May 1 at the earliest — and probably not even then.
“Essentially what I’ve told my folks over the last week is we should just accept that at least for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions,” Silver said in an interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson aired on the NBA’s Twitter page. “I don’t think that necessarily means that, on May 1, we will be [in that position], but at least I know that just to settle everyone down a little bit.
“It doesn’t mean that, internally, both the league and discussions with our players and the teams we aren’t looking at many different scenarios for restarting the season, but I think it honestly is just too early, given what’s happened right now, to even be able to project or predict where we will be in a few weeks.”
Silver said repeatedly throughout the interview that part of his hesitancy to make any sort of prediction about when, or if, the NBA would return is how much things have changed since Silver initially brought the league to a halt on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 shortly before the Jazz were supposed to play in Oklahoma City against the Thunder.
At the time the league shut down, it initially said it would be a 30-day hiatus. But it will unquestionably be far longer than that — if it is able to return at all.
“The short answer is no,” Silver said, when asked if he has a better sense of when the league will be able to return than he did when it shut down. “And, interestingly enough, I think if you and I on March 12 had been asked that same question, both of us would have said, ‘It’s hard to imagine that three-plus weeks later, we wouldn’t have a better understanding of where we are.’
“The fact is now, sitting here today, I know less than I did then, and I think in some ways, just as I listen to the public health experts and the people advising us, the virus is potentially moving faster than maybe we thought at that point, so maybe it will peak earlier. What that means, in terms of our ability to come back at some point, whether it be in late spring or early summer, is unknown to me.”
Silver said that “in a perfect world” the NBA would be able to return with regular-season games, followed by the playoffs, but that no decisions had yet been made about what the league’s schedule would look like should play resume.
He added that, because of the increasing uncertainty, the NBA has gone from modeling specific scenarios tied to what date the league could return to instead dialing back to see how things develop with respect to the fight against the pandemic.
“Initially, through the first week, two weeks, we were looking at more specific scenarios,” Silver said. “If we start this date, what would it mean for the regular season? When would the playoffs begin? When would they conclude? And, again, what I’ve learned over the last few weeks is we just have too little information to make those sort of projections.”
He also said the NBA is in “listening mode” when it comes to determining how it could return to play, and said the league has talked to “many jurisdictions” about the possibility of hosting a scenario where the league would return to play at a single site, and that the league has inquired about the ability for those places to hold such an event.
But Silver followed that by saying there still remain too many unknowns to flesh out a specific plan.
He also went into detail about the conference call he and the heads of virtually every other major professional North American sports leagues had with President Donald Trump on Saturday afternoon. Silver said the call — which the leagues had been asked to participate in earlier in the week, but the date and time it would take place wasn’t finalized until Friday — lasted 45 minutes, and that it was an “old-school” call with no video. He added that President Trump talked about how much he missed watching live sports, and had been watching replays of classic games on television as a result.
And, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday, Silver said he wanted the NBA to be at the forefront of trying to help restart society by being some of the first things to come online once the “all clear” is given after being among the first to fully shut down last month.
“We know our priorities, in terms of health and safety,” Silver said. “But then, in factoring those things in, where will we be in May? Will there be an opportunity, and I think beyond the virtue of crowning a champion, what will the symbolism be of major league sports starting back up in this country?
“I think that’s what President Trump wanted to talk to us all about on that call on Saturday. It wasn’t just a pep talk, but I think it was a reminder of what the meaning is of sports to Americans, to our culture in particular. And, in essence, what came back from all of the leagues collectively was, ‘Once we get the all clear, however that is determined, of course with public health officials by our government, federal and state, and it may vary from location to location, we’re going to be ready to go.’ But [the priority], first and foremost, is the health and safety of everyone involved.”
That also includes Silver’s family, as he discussed with Johnson the fact that his wife is due with the couple’s second child in the middle of May, and that both are unsure of what the situation will be at New York City hospitals — currently among the hardest-hit by the pandemic — when she is ready to give birth.
“As you mentioned, my wife is expecting, so there is a bit of additional anxiety in terms of going into a New York City hospital in the middle of all of this,” he said. “She’s due roughly in mid-May, so we’ll see what the circumstances are then, and if it makes sense to deliver in a hospital in New York City. I think Maggie, my wife, has remained very calm, but that is just another additional factor.”
Silver reiterated something he had said during the shutdown — that 99% of fans don’t ever attend an NBA game. This has given him an opportunity to think about different ways the fan experience could be altered and improved as a result of the league being forced to spend time away from the game instead of ramping up for its busiest time of year. He also added that “what keeps him up at night” is the 55,000 jobs the NBA creates — including its day-of-game workers — and how those people are being impacted, like millions of others, because of the shutdown.
But he also said this crisis is only reinforcing how much society is invested in sports, and how he hopes the NBA can serve as a way to begin bringing it back to some sort of normalcy on the other side of the virus’ impact.
“I think we’re all realizing how much we miss live sports,” Silver said. “I follow every sport that’s out there … for a large segment of our country, we live and die on sports. We consume enormous amounts of it, and this is unprecedented.
“[But] to all of the families watching this, I know the NBA is a big part of their lives, but we want to assure everybody that, while we are putting the health and safety of everybody first, we’re looking at every possibility to get our players back on the floor and play NBA basketball again.”