On Monday evening, NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke on Twitter Live in an interview with TNT broadcaster Ernie Johnson. The interview was conducted as part of a program called "NBA Together."
In the discussion, Silver was asked about a possible timetable for the NBA resuming play and the obstacles of a possible return for the league. Johnson said that this was the first time he and Silver had spoken since March 12, one day after the NBA postponed its season. He asked Silver if he had a better feel for where the league is regarding a possible resumption of play.
"The short answer is no," Silver told Johnson. "When we initially shut down, we were calling it a hiatus or a pause. There was a notion of 30 days, because there wasn't any of the widespread view at that point that, in essence, our country would be entirely shut down over the next several weeks. And so the fact is now, sitting here today, I know less, in a way, than I did then."
Silver added that while it’s still too early to project where the NBA (or world) will be in a few weeks, he expects that at least for the rest of April — and perhaps beyond — the league “won’t be in any position to make any decisions.” It’s simply still too early to plan or predict anything about this rapidly evolving crisis with any certainty.
In that vein, when asked by Johnson if the NBA has made headway on a plan to resume the season, Silver was noncommittal, and understandably so. The commissioner said he’s learned to be wary of making any prediction in these uncertain times.
In a recent appearance on SportsCenter, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that there is increasing pessimism throughout the league that a resolution to this season will end up being feasible. While Silver didn’t go that far, he did echo a concern that Windhorst brought up in his reporting: impacting the start of the 2020-21 campaign.
“As I look out into the summer, there does come a point at which we start impacting next season,” Silver said. “A few weeks ago, nobody thought we were talking about even potential impact on next season independent of what we might choose to do to finish our regular season and playoffs. Again, I think now, because so little is known, we're here, we're ready to go. I mean, I don't want to leave the suggestion with anybody that we're not doing everything we possibly can to restart under the right circumstances, but of course player safety and the health of everyone in the NBA family has to come first.”
Silver then went into detail on the logistical hurdles strategizing a return to action comes with, even saying the league has been in touch with potential sites to host fanless or quarantined games.
“That may mean that there is a scenario in which we can play without fans. That is something we (have) looked at lot at,” Silver said. “In fact, I think the Warriors were scheduled to play the first fanless game before we were shut down. So we are looking at that possibility and we were thinking about what that might mean.
“How would those games be televised? Would we still play in huge NBA arenas? Or would we go to practice facilities? Would we go to a single site? I mean, there's been a lot of conjecture about various cities and places that might hold a tournament. Again, we are in listening mode right now. We've been contacted by many of those jurisdictions to ask what our level of interest is and we've talked to them about what their capabilities are. But once again there's just too much unknown right now.”
But Silver strongly emphasized that health and safety considerations have and always will be paramount. Still, if a return were possible for the NBA or other professional sports, there could be great economic and societal benefit. It’s a difficult line to straddle, a point Silver understands well.
“The health of everyone in the NBA, our players, coaches, anyone who's on the front line has to come first,” Silver said. “I will say to [Ernie Johnson's] point about the greater good, we, sports collectively, in essence led the way in shutting down. And it's something I said when we were all on the call with [President Donald Trump] this weekend, I know all the leagues share this view that we'd love to be part of the movement to restart the economy.”
“Of course that can't come in a way that would compromise safety. But I think we also have to recognize that it's a public health matter to shut down the economy and leave tens of millions of Americans unemployed. It's a public health matter to isolate people.”
Ultimately, the data will dictate when a slow return to normalcy can begin. Silver believes sports can play a role in that collective healing process, but only once an “all-clear” consensus is reached.
When that might be remains to be seen.