NBA and coronavirus: Gov. Ron DeSantis invites leagues to resume in Florida

NBA and coronavirus: Gov. Ron DeSantis invites leagues to resume in Florida

If the NBA is able to find a safe (by relative standards) and agreeable manner in which to resume the 2019-20 season in the next two-to-four weeks, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to host.

“All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing," DeSantis said at a news conference on Tuesday, via WPTV 5. "What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won't let them operate, we'll find a place for you here in the state of Florida.

“Now, we’re not going to necessarily have fans,” DeSantis continued. Still: “We want to have you here. We want to have the basketball practicing again. We would love to have the Major League Baseball.”

DeSantis is now the second governor to announce their state is open to hosting professional sports teams and leagues, along with Doug Ducey of Arizona. Florida became one of the first states to begin the reopening process by allowing beaches, restaurants, libraries and museums to reopen on a limited basis starting May 4, with salons and barber shops close behind on May 8.

In April, Florida classified pro sports as “essential services,” an early marker of DeSantis' willingness to play an active role in the resumption of live sports.

The NBA was making headlines in Florida before DeSantis’ invitation, though. Multiple outlets have reported that the Walt Disney World Resort property in Orlando is on the league’s short list of “bubble” options to quarantine its season upon resumption — in no small part due to the resort’s ample housing options, basketball-friendly facilities, and the pre-existing relationship between the NBA and Disney.

In fact, when Shams Charania of The Athletic first reported Walt Disney World Resort as a site being discussed by the league, he said that, “Disney is believed to have already offered up its property as the NBA sees fit.” 

Two Florida teams — the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic — have also been permitted to both reopen their practice facilities on a severely limited basis, and test asymptomatic players and staff — the latter a sticking point for those hesitant to hoard test kits with healthcare works and citizens in need. 

Per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Heat unshuttered their facility, and 12 players have already taken advantage. As of this writing, the Magic have yet to publicly indicate exactly when they might open their facilities.

Editor's note: On Thursday, May 14, the Magic announced the reopening of their practice facility for individual, voluntary, socially distanced workouts.

Still, optimism appears to be burbling that a resumption attempt could be possible, albeit not under ideal circumstances. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that one of the NBA’s goals is to prepare teams and players for a reality where, once play resumes, one positive coronavirus test wouldn't completely shut the league down again. That feels a slippery slope and a massive risk to athletes and their families, but in any pre-vaccine resumption attempt, infection will be an ever-present risk.

What’s more, with various states’ shelter-in-place guidelines in different stages, even the league’s most optimistic projections have just 22 of 30 practice facilities opening by May 18. None are currently allowing group activities. Now over two months removed from the last NBA game played, the process of working players back into game-ready shape will be an arduous process — and even that won’t begin in uniform fashion for some time.

Add that to concerns over the optics of obtaining and deploying the tests necessary to maintain its quarantine “bubble,” the looming financial ramifications of a condensed or cancelled season, and more, and it’s clear that — even at this stage — projecting if or when a return might occur is mostly conjecture.

But Florida is cementing its candidacy for the one-day center of the NBA universe in the meantime.

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NBA forces Jimmy Butler to change jersey just before Heat-Nuggets tipoff

NBA forces Jimmy Butler to change jersey just before Heat-Nuggets tipoff

Throughout his career, including his rise to stardom with the Bulls, Jimmy Butler always has been comfortable making the grand, uncomfortable statement.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Butler replied "I don't care" when asked if he received a league explanation for making him switch jerseys just before the Heat's Saturday tipoff against the Nuggets — both teams' first game in the NBA's 22-team restart.

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Butler took the court for a game won by the Heat 125-105 wearing his No. 22 with no name on the back, a stance he revealed two weeks ago he wanted to take for his statement on racial inequity.

“I love and respect all the messages that the league did choose. But for me, I felt like with no message, with no name, it’s going back to like who I was. And if I wasn’t who I was today, I’m no different than anybody else of color," Butler said on July 14. "And I want that to be my message in the sense that just because I’m an NBA player, everybody has the same rights no matter what. That’s how I feel about my people of color.”

The NBA's restart has featured ample opportunity for players, coaches and referees to address the systemic racism plaguing the country, with most wearing "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts as they warm up on a court emblazoned with the same message. Most teams also have been taking a knee during the playing of "The National Anthem" before games.

But Butler's preferred jersey statement didn't fall under the social justice messages agreed to by the league and players association. So just before tipoff, he walked to the Heat bench, took off his no-name jersey and replaced it with one that featured his name "BUTLER" underneath the No. 22. The agreed-to social justice messages like "EQUALITY" and "JUSTICE" appear above the names on other jerseys.

This appeared to be a compromise since Butler got his wish to have no name above his No. 22. He said he hopes the league changes its position and hasn't ruled out making the same symbolic act before each tipoff even if the league doesn't.

"I decided to change because my teammates probably needed me a little bit today," Butler said.

That they did. Butler posted 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the victory over the shorthanded Nuggets.

Butler also commented this week on the Knicks' hiring of Tom Thibodeau. Butler rose to stardom under Thibodeau's coaching with the Bulls and flourished for one season with him in Minnesota before forcing his way out of town with a trade to the 76ers. Thibodeau, who also served as the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations, had traded Zach LaVine, the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn to the Bulls for Butler.

"Obviously, I'm happy for him," Butler said. "I think he's going to do well. He's going to turn those young guys into some real players, some superstars, some All-Stars. All of that good stuff.

"I know he's been itching for this. I know he has been preparing for it. When you talk about Thibs on the big stage, I think they go hand in hand."


Bears, Bulls and Cubs all in top 20 of Forbes’ most valuable sports teams

Bears, Bulls and Cubs all in top 20 of Forbes’ most valuable sports teams

Forbes released its annual sports team value rankings on Friday. Three Chicago teams made the cut: the Bears, Bulls and Cubs.

The Bears checked in at No. 13 with an estimated value of $3.45 billion, making it the sixth-most valuable NFL franchise behind the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers — quite the return on investment for the reported $100 the McCaskey family bought the team for in 1920.

Meanwhile, the Bulls and Cubs tied at No. 17 with twin $3.2 billion valuations. Jerry Reinsdorf and a group of investors purchased the Bulls for $16.2 million in 1985; the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs for $700 million in 2009.

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By Forbes’ calculations, that makes the Bulls and Cubs the fourth-most valuable franchises in their respective sports. In the NBA, the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors registered higher valuations than the Bulls. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox checked in ahead of the Cubbies.

All three Chicago teams gained value over the course of the year. In Forbes’ 2019 rankings, the Bulls and Bears were valued at $2.9 billion, and the Cubs at $3.1 billion.

The NFL boasted 27 teams in Forbes’ top 50, by far the most of any sports league (the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans were the only clubs not represented). The NBA was second with nine.

And with three teams listed, Chicago tied with San Francisco and Boston as the third-most represented markets in the top 50. New York, with six teams, was first in that category; Los Angeles, with five, was second.