NBA Considering Stunning Date for Lakers to Begin Title Defense

Los Angeles celebrates Lakers NBA championship.

Getty Los Angeles celebrates Lakers NBA championship.

Christmas and the NBA in L.A.?

Well, there is a chance—maybe one with slim but growing odds—that the NBA could restart its season and the Lakers could get their title defense underway far earlier than many expect. That’s because there is, according to ESPN, a push among some owners to have the league start its season on Christmas Day, maintaining a television ratings date that has been traditionally good for the league.

According to the ESPN report, the league’s Board of Governors is meeting on Friday with a number of items on the docket. Among them are, “possible changes to plans for the 2020-21 season, including starting as quickly as possible, playing fewer than 82 games and not waiting for fans to be permitted to all league arenas.”

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If the NBA is willing to start the season in empty buildings without fans, the chance of a Christmas start is possible. That could, with a shortened season, allow the league to get its regular October-through-June schedule recalibrated and on track by the time the 2021-22 season starts.

Still, such a move would be a stunning turnaround for the league, which has seemed more inclined toward a Martin Luther King Jr. Day opening than a Christmas opening. Still, there is “momentum” for the proposal, according to the New York Times.

The league, of course, is just coming off the end of its Finals, which the Lakers won by beating the Miami Heat earlier this month. That came after a four-month hiatus because of the spread of the novel coronavirus followed by an elaborate restart plan that saw 22 teams finish out the final eight games of the season and a full, two-month slate of playoff games.

NBA’s Players Union Would Have Say in Christmas Day Opening

Getting teams turned around in time to play on Christmas would be a monumental challenge. Typically, an NBA postseason wraps up in mid-June, and Opening Night comes in late October, allowing about four months of downtime. In 2019, the Finals finished on June 13 and the season began on October 22, a span of 130 days.

With this year’s Finals ending on October 11, a Christmas start would mean just 75 days of downtime. Because there would likely be three weeks of training camp involved, players could be ramping back up to full tilt in early December.

The players association, which has worked closely with the NBA on its plans for a return to action, would have to approve of any such move by the league owners. While the union certainly wants the league to maximize its revenues (players and owners split the income), it does not want to put its players in harm’s way, making such a short turnaround an iffy proposition for the union.

There is also the matter of whether the NBA would set up another bubble or allow teams to play in their home arenas. The league was adamant about a bubble to finish its restart of last season.

Playing in Front of Fans Impossible on a Christmas Day Start

The ESPN report does not name teams in support of an early return, but it is likely that owners of the eight teams that did not get an invitation to the Orlando bubble at Disney World this summer are among them. Those teams have not played, after all, in more than seven months.

But commissioner Adam Silver has not indicated much of an appetite for starting the season early or conceding that the season will have to start without fans in the stands—a major driver of revenue for the league.

Speaking with Bob Costas on CNN earlier in the month, Silver did mention the possibility of a Christmas start, but seemed to nix the idea. “My best guess is that, even though it will be the 2020-21 season, that season won’t start until 2021. We said ourselves the earliest we would start is Christmas of this year, but the more I am learning, even listening to Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, I continue to believe we are going to be better off getting into January.”

Silver said the goal of the league is to play a full season, in front of fans. But a Christmas start would all but concede that won’t be able to happen.

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