The NBA Playoffs would have started today. Instead, the entire planet is on an extended timeout. The world is frozen. Can the NBA (and other sports) resume?
Given the state of COVID-19 in the U.S. (over 720,000 infected and 33,000 deaths), there is no way for the games to restart next week or next month. Not with 19,000 fans screaming inside the Staples Center.
The only way to resume the contest?
“Nobody comes to the stadium.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease expert, had this response: “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them (the players) in big hotels, you know, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled, namely a surveillance, but have them tested, like every week. By a gazillion tests. And make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family. And just let them play the season out. I mean, that’s a really artificial way to do it, but when you think about it, it might be better than nothing.”
LeBron James, when was asked about this possibility, had this reply: “Ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd.”
But LBJ’s reply was back in March. This was before the world realized the cruelty and venom of the coronavirus.
So the possibility of fans sitting side by side in a packed arena is hallucinatory. It’s not possible. Not even the “checkerboard” arrangement, where fans sit one or two seats apart, is acceptable.
President Trump concurs with the no-fans option, saying, “It’ll be made for television. The good old days, made for television.”
Here’s the viable scenario for the NBA: Choose a couple of key U.S. cities. (I’m sure New York, given its epicenter status, won’t be one of them.) Group together the teams and restart the league with a locked-down hotel and stadium without fans.
The “quarantined bubble,” it’s called. It’s muted, boring, desolate and lifeless — yet possible. But herein lies a problem: Can you fully isolate the hundreds of players and staff of the 30 NBA teams?
Dr. Caroline Buckee of the Harvard School of Public Health is frightened with this approach.
“It sounds like potentially a bad idea,” Dr. Buckee said. “I don’t think it’s realistic to completely isolate and quarantine the players. For a start, there are people who will need to clean their rooms, feed them, wash their clothes, janitorial staff and so forth. And those people will not be protected and they will be interacting with their communities. It is very difficult to truly self-isolate. Purposefully putting people at risk seems foolish.”
What if there’s one COVID-19 case that will infiltrate this bubble? Think of a scenario like a cruise ship.
This is a risky option. But the league doesn’t have a choice.