An NBA Quarantine League Is A Logistical Nightmare, But Also Maybe The Only Option

The NBA, like every other sports league, is currently trying to figure out what its future looks like over the remainder of 2020. With the league on hiatus and the COVID-19 pandemic showing little sign of slowing down, it seems all but assured that any hopes of a return to normal basketball, with arenas full of people, is out the window if they have hopes of finishing the 2019-20 season.

As such, the league is running through various contingencies for how it can try and finish out this season with the understanding that, at this point, finishing the entirety of the regular season is unlikely. One idea — which, it should be noted, has been dismissed by the likes of LeBron James as something he would not want to participate in — is getting all of the teams to a neutral site, such as Las Vegas, and having them play games in a central location so as to quarantine the entire league together, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Tuesday’s SportsCenter.

Now this would, of course, be pretty extreme and the push back from players is more than understandable. Putting everyone effectively in a bubble and having them play games in an empty gym (or ballroom) would be really weird and players would, rightfully, have concerns about such a plan. Chief among those would be whether their families could join them and how they would ensure the safety of all involved. There’s no chance players are going to go for being walled off from the rest of the world, including their loved ones, for months on end to finish a season, so the league would surely have to ensure they could bring families with them.

The logistics of all of this are, of course, a nightmare and it would take months to have a solid plan in place and execute it. First, they would have to be able to test everyone — players, coaches, referees, trainers, family members, chefs, hotel staff, etc. — that would be involved. That is an undertaking that, as of this moment, is not possible, and should not be possible until testing is made prevalent enough nationwide that we can test healthy individuals to begin tracing the virus. Maybe that is possible in June, although even that hope could be overly optimistic. But the thing is, it’s hard to see how the NBA can start playing games again until everyone can be tested — and have confirmed negative tests — given that one positive test is how this entire thing got shut down in the first place.

The only way to ensure players do not contract the virus and bring it back to the rest of the league if they all do test negative is to limit their contact to exclusively other people that have tested negative as well, which is why the quarantine league, as strange and unpalatable as it may be to players, is likely the only way everything starts up again.

Now, let’s say they are able to successfully test everyone and, despite everything we know about how the virus is spread throughout the country and is most often being carried by asymptomatic people, they can confirm negative cases for all 450 players league-wide and coaches and trainers and necessary staff and their families that would be allowed to join them. The next step would be finding the location. Las Vegas makes sense, given the room capacity and that you can build basketball courts inside the ballrooms at these hotels. The hotel in question would, again, have to be closed off to all non-NBA quarantine league personnel, and they would need significant court space in order to allow for the much-needed practice time that teams will require to shake off the rust from a few months off — not to mention bringing in workout and training equipment.

This is why an idea such as Jay Williams’ cruise ship quarantine league would likely be nearly impossible to pull off, because while two courts might be enough to get games played, it would not fill the need for practice area for the entire league.

The facility aspect of this is a lesser hurdle to testing, but still would require a tremendous amount of planning to find the right location that can fit enough courts to allow for teams to have ample practice and training time in whatever the lead-up to play is. If thorough testing can be done and you can get the facility logistics handled, two incredibly large ifs, then it really wouldn’t be all that difficult to handle scheduling. There are numerous preseason college hoops tournaments that play in ballrooms and simply run all day with numerous games happening back-to-back on the same court.

Games can run simultaneously on different courts as needed, with television feeds sent to local affiliates to broadcast as well as the league’s national partners so that they can fulfill as much of their TV contract as possible. How many games they could play in a buildup to the playoffs would depend on when they could start playing games, and while Woj’s report notes they hope this would be just for the initial relaunch, it’s hard to imagine them starting in such a setting and not having to finish there as well.

If they do have to continue this through the playoffs, there wouldn’t be the need for the two days of rest around travel days, so postseason series could move quicker and they could truncate early rounds to Best of 5. It would be extremely strange to see playoff games taking place in an empty ballroom on the second floor of the MGM Grand, but then again, nothing about this entire situation has been exactly normal.

It’s understandable why right now there’s pushback to the idea. It is radical and, quite frankly, seems absurd. But these are absurd times and, much like the swift changing narrative that came from the initial response to the concept of playing games without fans, as time goes on and it becomes clear that this is the only way forward, it wouldn’t surprise me if more are willing to at least entertain the concept. It’s extreme and it would be an incredible undertaking with a slim chance of getting everyone tested and confirmed to not have the virus, but that slim chance is better than none and that might be the only option the league and players have if they want to finish this season.