March 11, 2020—the night the U.S. sports world stood still—now joins Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001 among transcendent historic dates.
“At that time I thought it would be a couple of weeks, but I would not have imagined it would be this long. But every day it is obvious it will have to take as long as it has to take,” admitted National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) Executive Director Michelle Roberts last week in a video appearance at Sports Business Daily’s CAA World Congress of Sports, a four-part virtual conference.
She was at the March 11 Utah-OKC contest when news broke that a player had tested positive for COVID. The game was subsequently called off and the league schedule was later postponed.
“My phones were blowing up,” she recalled of getting a call each from NBPA President Chris Paul and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “Coincidentally, I had meetings with Adam Silver that morning in anticipation of that. It was more obvious that it wasn’t getting any better, and what we were going to [have to] do moving forward.
“It was safety first from my perspective,” she said. “The obvious way to deal with this is to stop the games.”
A new ESPN poll last week found 65% of fans would watch sports without fans as opposed to 35% who want fans at sporting events. Eighty-five percent see sports returning life to normal, but 76 % would support sports without fans present if the players are quarantined and closely monitored.
The WNBA is still looking to start its season sometime this summer. “We are all facing scenarios where there will be no fans [in attendance],” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the CAA World Congress last week.
Although the NBA hasn’t yet decided when to resume the 2020 season, “There is so much speculation going around… Everybody is frustrated that you don’t get that black or white answer, but for a lot of this there is no black or white answer,” Roberts said.
She strongly advised against moving too fast to get things started again. “Don’t rush! Our fans miss the game, but they also don’t want to see a game that results in people getting injured, getting harmed or getting sick, or potentially God forbid, die. Just be patient.
“It is a question of safety. When we resume, most of the risk is going to be assumed by the players. It’s going to be the players and the staff that is going to be at risk. They are the ones that have the right to have as much information as possible, to have the best mitigation efforts put in place,” Roberts said
WNBA Commish Cathy Engelbert said that it is important to build upon her league’s April draft. “There are great stories coming out of this draft,” she pointed out. “We can now think creatively on how to keep the conversation going.”
Engelbert added that sharing court time with the NBA, especially in arenas such as Minnesota that have both NBA and WNBA teams, is a possibility. She suggested hoop doubleheaders “either before or after an NBA game, or live look-ins of a WNBA game [during] an NBA [televised] game.”
“We were going to take the Olympic break (July 13-August 13), but we are now looking at [it] where we had no games and use that opportunity to fill out some broadcast windows,” she noted.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.