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An open letter to the NBA and WNBA: Please cancel the season in the name of safety from the coronavirus

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We love basketball. But right now isn’t the time to rush back into action.

Believe in Women
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speak at an event in New York City in September 2019.
Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

Dear NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert,

I’ve written a lot over the years about the professional basketball teams in Washington, D.C. over the last years, namely the Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics since at least 2012 on the SB Nation network, whether on this site or Swish Appeal, SB Nation’s women’s basketball blog.

I love writing about basketball as a fan. I love the Washington Wizards. I love the Washington Mystics. I want to see games in their leagues continue, no matter what, in almost all circumstances. And I understand that times are difficult right now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Though I certainly respect that your leagues are often at the forefront of social issues, I still can’t fathom why you haven’t cancelled your upcoming seasons yet during the middle of a pandemic. And to Commissioner Silver specifically, I’m still wondering how you or other personnel can tell NBA personnel to basically just “get over it.”

In the United States, over 80,000 people died of contracting the novel coronavirus while over 1.3 million people have been reported to have it. These numbers are certainly underreported. Cases and deaths are certain to rise in the weeks ahead as most states look to reopen their economies prematurely.

Multiple players in the NBA, including Utah Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, and WNBA players like Chicago Sky center (and Washington Mystics alumna) Stefanie Dolson have contracted coronavirus in the last couple months. Sure, some players were asymptomatic like Durant and Mitchell. And in Dolson’s case, she wasn’t the only one to get coronavirus within her inner circle. Much of her family contracted it too. They are all public figures who show just how fast this virus can go.

Fortunately, no one in the NBA or WNBA had to go to the intensive care unit in the hospital ... yet. I’m not just talking about players, but also, coaches, strength trainers, referees. Really, anyone who works directly with the people that make basketball the great sport it is.

That all could end if you re-open the 2019-20 NBA season and the 2020 WNBA seasons prematurely. And to Commissioner Silver, that’s exactly what I think you are trying to do.

Yes, I’m starved to watch more basketball. The Wizards are ninth in the Eastern Conference and are mathematically still in the playoff hunt. The Mystics are looking to defend their 2019 WNBA championship. But it’s also not worth the risk of Bradley Beal and/or Elena Delle Donne getting sick and thinking that they’ll simply “get over it” just because they’re not senior citizens.

It’s also not worth the risk of any NBA or WNBA player, coach or referee getting this virus AND having to get on a ventilator at the intensive care unit or DYING from this, all alone without his/her loved ones in his/her final moments.

It also doesn’t just have to be someone who works for your leagues and teams. What if a housekeeper, a cook or a concierge somehow gets it and then needs to go to the ICU or worse?

Is that what your leagues are willing to risk when there are NO specific treatments available? Are you willing to risk a major PR hit or lawsuit from it?

I get it, all the players and coaches are competitive by nature. They want to play for a championship this year, even if more get the coronavirus.

The Toronto Raptors want to see if they can defend their title against a stacked Western Conference field that features LeBron JamesLakers and Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers. There’s another side of me that wants to see the Mystics repeat as WNBA champions for the first time since the Los Angeles Sparks did the same back in 2001 and 2002.

But again, the NBA and the WNBA aren’t just made up of the players, most of whom are in excellent physical shape and at lower risk from severe complications.

But many coaches and staff members who don’t directly work for the teams are older. They are at higher risk of dying. Right now, when most Americans, myself included, can’t get a test at will, it doesn’t send the right message when it seems that the NBA especially is reportedly throwing the kitchen sink at a solution to reopen.

Even though I think basketball has to stop for the time being, perhaps the United States could be better prepared with more tests by this fall and winter. If so, then I could see the NBA and WNBA reopen. I think that is where your efforts need to be at the present time.

The last two months have absolutely stunk for everyone. Sure, the Wizards were probably not making the playoffs, but I certainly would have liked to see a full 82-game regular season.

And without a pandemic, Emma Meesseman would be allowed to come to the United States without having to quarantine for weeks, perhaps in multiple “neutral” nations, if there are flights available in the first place. It would be quite weird to start a season without the reigning WNBA Finals MVP Commissioner Engelbert.

It is understandable that your players aren’t able to feed the fire in their bellies. You don’t have (or will not have) live games going on which will hurt your revenue. And fans, myself include are looking for a return to normalcy in sports. All of us want that!

That said, it’s most important that we look after everyone’s health and safety. At the end of the day, that’s all we have. It doesn’t matter whether that person is Meesseman or John Wall, Mike Thibault or Scott Brooks, or the lady or gentleman who handles their luggage when they enter a hotel during a road trip.

If we are all going to get through this pandemic together as well as possible, we’re going to have to sacrifice team sports until we have enough available testing on demand. I hate saying this because sports is often what carries me through tough situations in life. But in these pandemic times, it’s our collective will to work together in a global society that will do so.

Once this is truly past us, I truly believe that basketball won’t just be back. I think the sport will be better than ever before. Thank you for your consideration.

Yours Truly,

Albert Lee