As the rate of coronavirus vaccinations across the country has risen, the NBA and other sports leagues have begun to open up their arenas closer to full capacity.
According to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, it's an effort the league has been building toward for a long time. But it was one recent change in particular that has him confident in the direction safety protocols are headed in the NBA's 28 cities.
"This has been going on for many months and we’ve been dealing with 28 different jurisdictions with various different protocols, ordinances and rules that have been placed since the pandemic began, and then they’ve changed over time. So it’s really been city by city, but the dramatic change came two weeks ago when the CDC changed its mask-wearing ordinance," Silver told NBC Sports Washington ahead of Wizards-76ers Game 3 in Washington. "Now, with 50 percent-plus of Americans fully vaccinated, we reached a certain comfort level. And I think then a certain sense of protectiveness for what it means to be fully vaccinated."
The NBA was one of the first major organizations to shut down operations in March 2020 as the novel coronavirus began to swell across America. Now, as the tide has turned in the fight against the virus, the league is priding itself on once again being a leader in the return to a sense of normalcy.
"I think now, as we’re at the point in our playoffs where we have sizable crowds in our arenas, I’m proud of the fact that I think we’re helping to set that tone for the country," Silver continued. "I think that’s an important role all of sports can play right now in restoring that sense of confidence to the American public."
Most fans were happy to take whatever sports they could get early in the pandemic, so they were willing to look past the oddity of playing in front of zero fans. But as primetime games have started to be played in front of significant crowd sizes again, the look and feel of sporting events has started to look a lot closer to normal.
That's brought the same question to the minds of many fans — when will arenas be back to full capacity across the board?
Silver offers some optimism for the start of next season on that front.
"Yes," Silver answered when asked if he believed stadiums would be back to full capacity by the start of the 2021-22 NBA season, before offering one notable exception. "The one city that’s difficult for me to speak for is Toronto, just because Canada seems to have been on a different curve in terms of virus and the vaccinations. Although given how many months that is from now, next October, I have no reason to believe that Canada won’t catch up to where the United States is in terms of vaccinations, and then indeed we would be opening on time in Toronto as well."
If the Raptors are able to open things back up, along with the rest of the NBA's cities as Silver hopes, then the 2021-22 NBA season might finally be a true return to normalcy for the league for the first full year since 2018-19. And that is cause for hope and excitement for NBA fans across the board.
To see the full interview with Chris Miller and Adam Silver, tune in to Wizards Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Saturday as the entire crew prepares for Wizards-76ers Game 3 on NBC Sports Washington.