Let me start by saying this is a bad idea. Even in the hypothetical world it exists in, it would still land anywhere from misguided to dangerous on the scale of outcomes. As far as ideas, it is really the last place thoughtful energy should be placed. Not my energy, for which this bad idea is more like spinning my wheels in the muck, but a waste of energy at a larger scale where it is being spent dreaming up viable scenarios in what has become a demonstrably untenable time for sheer fantasy.
The NBA season should be called. It should have been called already. Every day that passes where the league puts tentative first steps forward in announcing how teams will begin the slow work of practicing ends with several more steps back. The league says teams in markets where lockdown orders have eased may open their practice facilities to their players, but owners within some of those markets refuse. The league says teams may have a maximum of four players in each facility at a time, but teams deem the number too high and adjust for themselves. Every attempt at sequential progression brings with it another reminder that there is no typical, orderly way out of a pandemic.
But for the sake of launching one more ship on the sea of hypotheticals, here is an idea on how and where to restart the NBA season that doesn’t involve turning Las Vegas into a basketball Bio-Dome or rely on the false securities of Disney: What if the league just went to Canada?
Location is the first hurdle and an easy one to clear because all of Canada’s major cities are immediately off the table. Vancouver and Montreal are dealing with recovery from the country’s largest COVID-19 case loads. Toronto is, too. Toronto is also under provincial-wide laws that require gatherings, even in private, to include no more than five people. Throw in all of its useable game facilities being used to prep and provide 13,000 meals a day to the city’s frontline workers, and there’s nowhere for the NBA to go.
Looking to smaller cities with infrastructure in place and low infection rates, Winnipeg, in the Canadian prairies, and Halifax, on Canada’s east coast, are solid, purely imaginary candidates. The entire province of Manitoba, where Winnipeg is located, has recorded 283 infections to date, while Nova Scotia, the maritime province Halifax is the capital of, has just over 1,000. Both have pro sports teams and arenas that are either used currently for basketball or could be quickly converted. There is direct access to these arenas from nearby hotels, plus local sights and hospitality that would rival a ghost town Disney with a handful of mascots waving with forced cheer from six feet away or an emptied out Vegas where Criss Angel currently haunts the boulevard.
An outlier island of an option are Canada’s outlier islands. If the league wanted to take a twisted page out of Dana White’s book, a Canadian basketball island could be the answer. Prince Edward Island had only 27 COVID-19 cases, and Newfoundland 260, but there is definitely not enough room on PEI for 450 players and accompanying team staff. I don’t even mean that quaintly, there just may not be the square footage. Newfoundland’s spring weather would help in keeping most players shut inside when not competing, and St. Johns, the capital, has large arena facilities but is still small enough you could monitor by plain sight the travel of players.
Timing is the first wrench in this imaginary plan, because Canada requires a 14-day federally mandated quarantine for any person entering the country, regardless of origin. There are also travel restrictions into the country, all non-essential flights have been barred and Canadian airline companies have suspended trips to and from the United States. I’m waiving this one because each team would have its own charter, even if the gross excess that signals in a time of crisis would be a less than ideal message, but you know, sacrifices!
Fourteen days gives the league an actual numerical target to shoot toward rather than giving all of its teams different starting dates from which to shakily proceed and is peanuts compared to the continued — and necessary — lockdowns many states are facing, with no clear projections on when, if even why, those would be eased.
Assuming every player passed the 14-day quarantine and remained healthy, logistics are the next logical jumble to untangle in this illogical exercise. The NBA has not clarified, when speaking hypothetically about a season restart, whether it would be the season restarting from the exact point it paused and involve all 30 teams continuing on as scheduled or if the approach would go on a path accelerating teams toward the playoffs. We have heard that “all options are on the table” but with respect, some of the options are impossible as they would be painful to watch. Picture a Warriors team who has not practiced for eight weeks returning to play the rest of its season in full. Even as a Warriors fan, why would you want that?
If the NBA opted for an accelerated option, giving each team four to six more regular season games, teams could be staggered in their arrival to Canada. Two teams pass quarantine while the second two compete in back to back games, trading off with incoming teams to wait either in the city or nearby. Some examples: The Celtics temporarily living in Brandon, Manitoba, a two-hour drive from Winnipeg and a city of barely 50,000; or the Lakers undergoing a luxurious spa day on Fogo Island, where Gwyneth Paltrow has previously stayed in the island’s boutique hotel’s Flat Earth Suite for $5,000 (Canadian, a bargain) a night and where Kyrie Irving will gleefully spend his Canadian quarantine.
Alternately, seed the top-three teams in each conference as they were when play was halted (they’ve already clinched in the East and the West seems self-evident) and have the remaining five teams seed as-is, with wildcard games to determine order where teams are tied for wins. If the 8 and 9 seeds are close, as it is in the West, do the same. Either of these options makes the fake logistical planning easier, and lightens the additional imaginary load players and team staff will put on local healthcare and hospitality.
In terms of safeguards against reinfection for players and putting strain on communities, there are many built in. For starters, the country is pretty spread out. With its densest cities already off the table, the introduction of half the NBA entering its smaller ones would present a welcome economic opportunity for many small businesses furloughed by the pandemic, and an opportunity for the NBA to enjoy some new and extremely organic market growth. Player movement would be limited much like it is for every Canadian — lockdown orders have eased but it’s not as if there are that many places to go.
Canada’s universal healthcare system tends to gets blue skied, especially when viewed remotely and in crisis. There are still gaps, but when the worst you can accuse it of is staying competent, it lends itself as another good reason to pursue this bad idea. The hope would have to be, as it would be anywhere the NBA imagined it could do this, that the need for re-testing would be minimal. Even hypothetically, it is terrible to pull resources like tests and medical supplies from those who need them more, but if the league could make some kind of charitable contribution to meaningful Canadian organizations offsetting the impacts of COVID-19, it would be a decent way to say thanks for using some of its tests.
Finally, there are the hypothetical optics to think about. If the NBA season were to start up again in the United States, it could potentially signal to millions that things had returned to “normal.” That Trump’s jackhammering rhetoric of America being on the other side of the pandemic was true, expediting the dangerous fallout of people returning to public life too soon. Shifting the remainder of the season and postseason to Canada signals that things are serious enough that foreign soil was the better option, but with the added familiarity the tether of its lone Canadian franchise could offer. Sort of like, “We always wanted to spend more time here but never got the chance!”
Again, this is generally a bad idea. In the scheme of what is important right now, as much as it may provide welcome respite for many, the idea of the NBA restarting isn’t. But if the NBA is determined to do this well guess what — Canada can be, and kind of already is, your basketball island.