In dealing with coronavirus, NBA needs to step up and cancel games

Vincent Goodwill
·4 min read

The first domino fell in the Bay Area, with the Golden State Warriors deciding to play without fans on Thursday, and now the NBA should take drastic measures for a situation it didn’t create but must play a part in managing.

Shutting down arenas from fans and non-essential personnel is a step, but the league would be wise to shut down operations until there’s a handle on COVID-19.

It’s OK to say, “We don’t know,” when it comes to how the coronavirus will affect patrons, players or even media members congregating for NBA games.


The league usually operates with a level of clairvoyance and above the fray when possible. But sometimes, life gets in the way of an escape — and the business of basketball. The NBA isn’t ignoring the fact that there are so many factors it can’t control, including that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been so disproportionately underfunded that it can’t properly test those who may carry symptoms of the virus. That doesn’t mean the league is helpless.

Concerts, conventions and conferences across America have been canceled as precautionary measures, even though the vast majority of those adversely affected have weaker immune systems.

But the NBA can’t have death on its hands either, so it seems like the bigger markets will follow the Bay Area’s lead in prohibiting fans.

What the United Center looked like when it was empty Tuesday night. (Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)
What the United Center looked like when it was empty Tuesday night. (Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

It’s unprecedented and unfortunate that we don’t seem prepared to adequately handle what’s coming.

“It’s not coming, it’s here already,” a front-office team employee told Yahoo Sports.

The sooner the NBA closes its doors, the sooner it can re-open them to everyone — without the skeptical eyes of the public bearing down and wondering if it’s all about the dollar, dollar bill. Perhaps more with casual fans than the diehards, but the league is still reeling from its fumbling of the China controversy during the preseason, when it potentially lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue over a situation it didn’t create but managed poorly.

The NBA isn’t a health organization. It can’t test fans walking into buildings nor can it control fans who make the individual choice of putting themselves in potential harm’s way by attending games.

But it will certainly take an immeasurable amount of criticism and damage if it takes baby steps as opposed to more drastic measures to keep its fans and employees safe through this pandemic.

Shutting down arenas for two weeks to get a better handle? Besides losing maybe six games for each team and some national TV money, there isn’t much risk there.

Labor disputes have shortened seasons before, and leagues have adjusted on the fly. Playing a 75- or 76-game season won’t harm anyone in the big picture, and if an arena is sanitized and full of screaming, safe fans during that third Saturday afternoon in April because the right thing was done sooner rather than later, that could be the best option.

It doesn’t take a medical genius to recall infections that have worked their way through locker rooms — which are excellently maintained — in professional sports leagues through the years.

And unfortunately, watching the extra precautions taken by places we patronize every day makes it clear how unsafe of an environment we inhabit. Reminders to tell people to wash their hands to their favorite song seem funny in the aggregate, but cringeworthy that it takes something like this to ensure we’re doing the bare minimum.

So far, nothing drastic has happened to make the NBA appear irresponsible; that has fallen on higher powers that watched the virus make its way across the world in real time while doing nothing to prepare for its definite arrival.

But the NBA has always had to navigate situations outside of its own doing. This time of year, it’s the leader in our sports landscape, and so many will follow suit with what it comes up with in the next few days.

It’s easy to lead from the middle.

Let’s see how the lead dog does with all eyes on it.

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