OPINION | The NBA COVID-19 dilemma: Pause or play?

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Cecilia Hammond

The NBA has seen a significant rise in COVID-19 cases this month.

Harrison Simon, Sports Editor

After being forced to pause play last March, the NBA was unsure if it was going to be able to complete the 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, the league agreed to sequester the teams still in contention in a “bubble” at Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, and the rest of the season went quite smoothly, all things considered, with the Los Angeles Lakers winning its 17th title in franchise history. This season, however, the league has more cause for concern. 

Only six of the league’s 30 franchises have not had a game postponed due to the NBA’s extensive health and safety protocols, which require a minimum 10-day quarantine period for any players who test positive for the virus. Additionally, players have to quarantine if they are considered a close contact of someone who has tested positive. While the league is doing everything it can to ensure maximum safety for not just the players, but coaches, trainers, referees and other personnel, it has come at a significant cost for teams. With several games being postponed each week, this begs the big question: should the NBA put its season on hold? 

Due to the extended length of last season, the NBA started in late December this year. With the exception of the opening game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, the league made it through its inaugural weeks relatively unscathed, with very few players missing time due to the coronavirus. Alas, this did not last. The first team to suffer from a significant loss of players was the Boston Celtics, who got to the point where the team did not have enough players to suit up. The Philadelphia 76ers followed suit, even dressing an injured player in one game to meet the eight-player minimum

Many of the league’s teams have dealt with their own mini-outbreaks at varying levels of severity. With so many games being postponed and players missing more and more time due to health and safety protocols, the NBA is facing a crisis. With revenues already down from last year, the league needs to make it through this season. And with the NFL just one game away from completing its entire regular season and postseason without canceling a single game, the league is facing pressure to do the same. 

The problem is the NBA isn’t built to handle something like this. The league could certainly put teams in a bubble for the playoffs, but that’s a few months away — the league hasn’t even released the second half of the schedule yet due to uncertainty over completing the full 72-game schedule. In such an unprecedented time, no one knows what to do. But if the NBA wants to complete this season, it needs to do one of two things: suspend play to allow teams to get healthy again, or find a way to better protect teams from dealing with large COVID-19 outbreaks.