As the NBA convenes a conference call to determine how the league should handle different contingencies for the coronavirus outbreak, one general manager had a glib—and, maybe, grim—outlook on the subject: “In the end,” he told Heavy.com, “no one will be happy with whatever they decide to do. They’re all bad options.”
The league is planning to look at several possibilities. As of now, the coronavirus outbreak has not been significant enough to alter the schedule or take the drastic step of playing games without fans in the arenas, a notion that has been pre-emptively panned by some. The only major step has been to limit locker room access to essential team personnel only, keeping media members and most team employees out.
That is not going to be enough. The spread of the virus is expected to pick up in the coming weeks, just as the NBA is hitting its stretch run and moving toward the playoffs. Teams have been cautioning sick fans to stay home from games and updating warnings to fans attending games. The league will collect input from the Board of Governors today and decide how to proceed from there.
As Marc Stein of the New York Times revealed, the Golden State Warriors will play their game against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, March 11 without a fanbase, as San Francisco has banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people, per SFGate.com.
Already, the sports world has been affected by the coronavirus. Major League Baseball closed its locker rooms at Spring Training and the NHL, which is also approaching the postseason, did the same. The Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s postseason tournaments on Tuesday.
In the NHL, the San Jose Sharks could feel the brunt of the problem, as Santa Clara County has banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people, beginning at midnight Wednesday, through March. The ban is temporary but with three upcoming home games, the Sharks might be the first pro sports team in this country to play a game without fans because of coronavirus.
Alternatively, San Jose could play its games at neutral locations or come up with different plans for each game.
California Gov. Slams Warriors for Playing on Tuesday
That’s what is being discussed in the NBA, as well. The league required that all teams have plans for dealing with coronavirus outbreaks in their cities
If one team can’t play in front of fans because of a local ban, should the league react as a whole, out of fairness, and keep fans away from all arenas? Should neutral sites be sought? Would there be hard-and-fast rules? Or should the league enact a case-by-case plan?
The league will discuss those issues on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. On Thursday, the league will have another call for front-office executives.
In the meantime, there have been difficult decisions made on a team-by-team basis. The Warriors’ home court, the Chase Center, is just 45 miles from the SAP Center where the Sharks play. Some officials in San Francisco called for the Warriors to play Tuesday’s game against the Clippers without fans but Golden State played it as usual.
That decision drew criticism from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I found it quite curious and I mean this with respect,” Newsom said on Tuesday. “The four major organizations — NHL, soccer, Major League Baseball and the NBA put out guidelines to protect their athletes but not their fans. I think they owe you and their fan base an answer as to why it’s more important to keep reporters away from their players in the locker room than fans.”
Large Gathering Bans Looming in Different Markets
The NBA could find that, in several locations, the decision to ban large gatherings will be made for them, especially on the West Coast. Such a ban will be considered in San Francisco and is under consideration in Los Angeles. This week, the Big West basketball tournaments are being played in Long Beach and Anaheim, without fans present.
Lakers star LeBron James, after initially voicing opposition to playing without fans, clarified his outlook yesterday.
“They’re saying no one could actually come to the game if they go to that point, so I’d be disappointed in that,” James said, “but at the same time, you got to listen to the people that are keeping track of what’s going on. If they feel that it’s best for the safety of the players, safety of the franchise, safety of the league to mandate that, then we’ll all listen to it.”
The state of Washington, hard hit by the virus, announced a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people on Tuesday. There are no NBA teams in Washington and in nearby Oregon, where the Trail Blazers play, there are no plans to cancel large events.
On Sunday, Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen said, according to OPB.com: “Our recommendation is not to cancel large-scale events. Our recommendation is that people who are at risk — those who are over 60, those who have underlying health conditions — should seriously consider whether they want to attend an event like that because they are at risk.”
In Ohio, though, Gov. Mike DeWine called for a ban on fans at indoor sporting events. That would include Cavaliers games.
On Twitter, DeWine wrote:
Around the league, the virus is having an impact already. The Knicks canceled a 50th-anniversary celebration of the team’s 1970 champions, which had been slated for March 21. Many of the former players, in their 70s and older, expressed concerns about traveling to Madison Square Garden for the event.
For the league and sports in general, it’s still a disparate landscape of problems with a patchwork of solutions. In the coming days, the NBA hopes to have its coronavirus policy established.