Gonna say something pretty controversial here: Things are bad right now. COVID-19 has people paralyzed with fear, a once-in-a-generation type of pandemic that is going to lead to the death of millions worldwide. In America, a comically weak response that stemmed from the president’s belief that it was important to keep the number of confirmed cases as low as possible, in conjunction with a media apparatus designed to amplify literally whatever is said by the president on a given day, both misinformed the public about the gravity of the situation and meant the reality was going to be closer to what we have seen in Italy than in South Korea. Add in that the country’s economy is driven by consumers and that no one is buying much of anything besides toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and non-perishable goods, and well …
It’s bad! Grocery stores are constantly out of goods, restaurants and bars are closing, and the sources of joy that people have right now as they are locked away in homes and apartments across the country due to social distancing measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus are essentially limited to Netflix, video games, and books. It is easy to feel alone and scared, lord knows I do, and while sports are oftentimes an escape when this happens, they are just not an option right now.
Leagues worldwide have made decisions to stop everything. Basketball leagues in Asia (which appear to be close to starting back up) and Italian soccer leagues, for example, did this before other sporting leagues by nature of coronavirus coming to their shores sooner, but in America, the NBA has the distinction of being the league that started a wave of cancelations that saw the NHL, MLB, and MLS follow suit. Eventually, the NCAA decided to pull the plug on everything, and as a result, there is no NCAA Tournament and all other winter and spring championships ended before they could start. As for the NFL, it’s going along with business for now, but next month’s NFL Draft will no longer be a Las Vegas spectacle.
There is plenty to critique about all of this, namely that leagues were perfectly content to keep playing games without fans and make arenas little petri dishes for coronavirus, even if only handfuls of essential staffers were in attendances. But at a certain point, a whole bunch of eject buttons were pushed, and as a result, there is nothing, save for Twitch streams, a few soccer leagues in places like Australia and Singapore, and marble racing.
Amid all of this, fans are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel, for the day to come where — even if it’s in front of spectator-less venues — we see sports again. I am one of these people, and for my entire life, basketball has been a source of joy and optimism. There is a good chance that you are the same way, and after long days or hardships or anything else, you also view the hardwood as a source of refuge, a place that affords you the chance to turn off your brain and get lost in a world where the best athletes on earth play a game we all love at the absolute highest level.
This is why it pains me to say that I believe it is in everyone’s best interest for the NBA to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
As you have likely read, seven NBA players — Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Christian Wood, and four Brooklyn Nets including Kevin Durant — have tested positive for coronavirus. Hopefully, all of them will be able to recover and this does not go beyond showcasing the most mild of symptoms for that group (and, of course, everyone else who suffers from this in the coming months). It also stands to reason that because of the ease with which this virus bounces from person to person, along with the estimate that about two-thirds of the entire population of the world could get infected, that there will be many more NBA players who contract this at one point or another, especially if games resume sometime in the coming months, while the U.S. is still in the midst of trying to figure out how to deal with all of this.
That is, obviously, a gigantic reason for concern, something that the NBA will assuredly wrestle with in the coming weeks as it eyes a potential return. We know that return is still on the table because of a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on Wednesday.
Sources: The ex-US surgeon general Vivek Murthy delivered NBA Board of Governors call a message consistent with other credible health organizations on grim potential impact of coronavirus pandemic in U.S., but left owners with hope of re-starting season/playoffs before July.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 17, 2020
Of course, knowing if this will be feasible or not is impossible to know. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said this peaking in 45 days is “not unreasonable,” although he made it a point to say he is not wed to that number. A piece in the New York Times indicated that a federal plan anticipates this pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and come in a few waves. There is no way of knowing for sure exactly what is going to happen, because predicting the future is difficult enough. Predicting the future in an unprecedented time, though, legitimately cannot be done.
While the NBA does not have games right now, it does have a monstrous platform through which it is capable of doing legitimately incredible things. Its hiatus sparked an absolutely breathtaking domino effect throughout the world of American sports that made this crisis feel exponentially more real in the United States than it did when we all collectively woke up last Wednesday morning. When the NBA does things, empirically, it matters.
There is no better time for that belief to be put to the test than right now. Death tolls that would dwarf the Civil War are on the table (here is a thread, don’t read it if you like being able to sleep). Jobs would evaporate, while the restaurants and stores that we all love would go under if this is a sustained thing and operating costs suffocate businesses nationwide, all of these being symptoms of a much larger issue that has been papered over and is now being exposed like a nasty wound. It’s scary, it’s real, and right now, the best thing people can do is prepare for a sustained fight.
The NBA, obviously, cannot use its considerable muscle to singlehandedly defeat something that could not care less about professional basketball. What it could do, though, is a drastic move that, if we’re lucky, will be viewed as overreacting somewhere down the line. Canceling the season altogether is a serious matter, one with major financial implications that I am in a position to ignore because I am a writer on a sofa and not a person with a stake in the league.
At a time when governments at the federal and state level are strongly recommending but not always requiring the most drastic measures to try and slow the spread of coronavirus — an example: advising social distancing and suggesting limiting the size of groups to no more than 10 but not making either of those things compulsory — the NBA is in a position where it can attempt to force hands. Would it work? Who knows! But canceling the season as part of a massive public health initiative, one that includes donating gobs of money to any number of things that are needed right now (testing kits, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, research for medicines and vaccines, ventilators, etc.) and freeing up arenas to be used as isolation centers (this interview with Dr. Bruce Aylward of the WHO mentioned China doing this to great effect), would be an objectively good thing.
Even beyond that, the mere awareness that is raised about the severity of our current situation by the NBA calling it quits on this season is something that cannot be ignored. Sure, there would be something frustrating about this particularly enthralling campaign getting cut short, but in the long run, there will be more championships handed out, more MVP trophies awarded, and more opportunities to see the best basketball players on earth do the wonderful things that have made all of us fall in love with the game over the years.
What there is not always going to be, however, is the chance to do what is right. Currently, what is right is going all-in on keeping as many people safe and alive as possible in the face of a pandemic. If that means we have to go a little longer than usual without basketball, that’s a sacrifice that must be made for the greater good.