On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told CNN that next season will not start until at least January 2021, if not later. The season was originally on target to begin in December. You can watch Silver’s entire interview with Bob Costas in the embed above, which also focuses on the politics around the league’s social justice campaigns and more. Silver mentions the timeline for next season at around the 21 minute mark.
There is something else Silver mentioned that is notable. He wanted the NBA to continue with an 82-game regular season and playoffs in a 2021 season.
There are four reasons why it makes sense to start next season after January. First, winter could be a rough time in the United States (and worldwide) because of the coronavirus. It is likely that there will be a second wave bigger than earlier this year. That could overwhelm hospitals, even if governments don’t re-institute lockdowns.
Second, the NBA doesn’t want to skip a season, which would force the league to lose more money. By delaying the start of next season, there could be fans at some point next year, if not all of it. This will help teams’ bottom lines, including the Washington Wizards’.
Third, Silver didn’t say this explicitly, but depending on the outcome of the presidential election, December and January could come during a tense transitional period if Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden defeats Republican Party opponent, President Donald Trump in November. At least officially.
Since we’re in Washington, we’ll be in the middle of those events but other cities will face unrest as well. If there are politically-motivated violent events in multiple NBA cities including Washington, that will delay games assuming the league intends on playing in cities.
And fourth, the NBA is already experimenting with summer basketball in its Orlando bubble. That has been a TV success so far since games were able to be played without coronavirus-related interruptions. Also, the NBA Playoffs have been held during the summer, right before the start of the NFL and college football seasons. This seems like something that will continue going forward.
If there is an unresolved issue about what should happen in a 2021 NBA season, it is whether the league should have a break during the Olympics in Tokyo, which are still scheduled for the summer. Since 1992, the first year when NBA players participated in the Olympics, there has never been a season interruption due to international play.
According to Silver in the interview, he didn’t commit on whether players should or shouldn’t play given the uncertainly of the virus between now and next summer. But NBA players from all countries are among the most popular athletes in the Olympic Games. And the WNBA holds an Olympic break during their summer season so the players on Team USA can train with the women’s national team. But the best American women’s players generally play for Team USA without complaint. That doesn’t always happen for the American men, like the FIBA World Cup team of 2019.
In short, I think it’s safe to say that American professional basketball will be on hiatus this fall and winter due to the threat of a coronavirus winter wave. That is going to alter the NBA calendar permanently when fans start seeing regular season games in spring and playoff basketball into the summer. It’s also going to affect when college basketball players enter the draft and when they can start playing with their new teams since these seasons are generally tied to an academic school year.
How do you feel about a future shift in the NBA calendar? Let us know in the comments below.