The NBA has been on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two months, and while there have been some steps towards a return — namely that players can workout at their team facilities should they so choose — there’s still plenty of ground that needs to be covered. Namely, the league has to figure out where it is going to play games, because while a bubble league appears to be the path forward, coming up with a location for said bubble league is still up in the air.
There have been several proposed locations, most prominently Disney World in Orlando and Las Vegas. On Wednesday afternoon, Sam Amick and Shams Charania of The Athletic brought word that hanging out with Mickey Mouse appears to be the most likely path forward.
The NBA has Orlando/Disney World as a clear frontrunner for return-to-play site for resuming 2019-20 season, sources tell me and @sam_amick. Orlando has gained significant seriousness among other cites such as Las Vegas.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 20, 2020
According to Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports, there is a belief at Disney World that it will play some role in whatever the NBA decides to do.
Sources from Walt Disney World tell me: "We are confident we'll be hosting the NBA in some fashion. It may not be the entire league, but we believe the NBA will be here to at least finish part of their season. Still hurdles to cross, but we are preparing as if that is the case."
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) May 20, 2020
Amick and Charania laid out some of the rationale behind the league’s thinking on its two primary potential destinations. While Vegas has been a destination for the league for plenty of events in the past, including its annual Summer League and the home of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, and there is plenty of hotel space for players to reside in, there are some major questions. Las Vegas’ mayor, Carolyn Goodman, had a widely-panned interview on CNN about reopening last month, although they did make it a point to say that the timidity that brought has waned as time has gone on.
But is Sin City the right place for a basketball safe haven? It depends on who you ask. Some players with families would surely prefer a place with more open spaces and less glitz and glamour. Players who are single, quite naturally, would be just fine in that setting. It also depends on what sort of condition Vegas might be in by the time they arrived.
Nevada governor Steve Sisolak launched a phased reopening plan that began on Friday, but casinos are not part of Phase I. The Nevada Gaming Control Board will reportedly have the final say on when casinos reopen.
As for Orlando and Disney, the appeal is obvious: There is more than enough space to hold everyone, while the league’s main broadcast partner is ESPN, which is owned by Disney. If the league were to pursue a return in a centralized location, Disney, one could argue, makes the most sense. And to top it all off, the concept of doing something at Disney appears to have piqued the interest of the company’s boss, Bob Iger.
Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, who has strong relationships with Silver and National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul, attended the remote Board of Governors meeting on April 17.
“It’s about the data, not the date (of a return),” he reportedly told the owners that day.
A report on May 12 indicated that the league wanted to have some sort of resolution on how it was going to move forward in 2-4 weeks. The ball appears to be moving on that, and perhaps we’re not far away from seeing the NBA put forth a plan.