On March 11, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA shut down the season, right as the entire league was entering the final push before the playoffs. Believe it or not, professional basketball is back this week and you can watch even if you don’t pay for cable.
That said, there are some things you need to know about the NBA’s restart. The United States isn’t even close to being out of the COVID-19 woods yet, so the league has taken some drastic measures to make sure it can crown a champion (and collect incomprehensible amounts of TV revenue) for the 2019-20 season.
The games start on Thursday, July 30. It’s weird as hell, but if you’ve been bored for the past five months with nothing to watch on TV, it’s better than nothing.
Wait, basketball is back? How?
Over the weekend, you may have noticed that Major League Baseball is back. Those teams are still traveling around the country and playing in empty stadiums. Everyone is getting regularly tested for COVID-19, but more than a dozen players for the Miami Marlins alone have tested positive, then they played a game anyway, and it seems like the league could shut down again at any minute.
That’s not how the NBA is doing it. There will be no traveling or even contact with the outside world until the NBA Finals are over. Instead, players, coaches, broadcasters, referees, journalists, and all of the other people who keep the train rolling are staying in a tightly controlled “bubble” in Orlando, Florida on a Disney campus. Everyone is holed up across a handful of hotels, games are played in three different arenas onsite with no seating for fans, and anyone who leaves or enters is closely monitored and tested before they can interact with other humans.
The games haven’t even started yet and we’ve already gotten a hilarious example of what happens when a player tries to break quarantine: LA Clippers guard Lou Williams will miss the first two games of the restart while quarantining because he decided to get some wings at a famous strip club in Atlanta. To be fair, the wings looked really good.
This is an odd approach, but it’s not a unique one. The NHL, WNBA, and MLS are all doing the same thing in different cities. One could and probably should argue that the U.S. doesn’t deserve to bring back sports yet, but the results in the NBA’s bubble so far are somewhat encouraging. The last round of COVID testing produced zero positive results.
They put the whole league in Orlando?
No. While it’s arguably irresponsible to play any basketball right now, it’s definitely irresponsible to make the teams that were already knocked out of playoff contention before the season shut down play basketball. The NBA only sent the 22 teams that were still alive in the playoff race to Orlando and left these eight teams out:
Golden State Warriors
New York Knicks
If your favorite team isn’t on that list, then they’re still playing. At one point, there were rumors of a second bubble in Chicago for the bottom-feeders because even bad teams need game revenue, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. The world can survive without closure to the Knicks’ season.
How many games are there?
This is where things get a little strange from a pure basketball perspective. Normally, an NBA team plays a 72-game regular season. If they have one of the eight best records in their conference by the end, they can punch a ticket to the big dance. Since the NBA didn’t get to finish its regular season before the pandemic t