The 2020 coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of all major pro sports this past spring, but no sport rebounded better than the National Basketball Association.
After shutting its 2019–20 season down in March, the league — under the leadership of Silver — began work on an innovative gameplan to resume the season safely within a quarantined environment in Florida that would host the league’s truncated regular and postseason schedule.
The Los Angeles Lakers in late October emerged from the nearly three-month bubble experience with the NBA Finals trophy after defeating the Miami Heat. Ratings for the competitive, six-game championship series were subpar, but competition was extreme against the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals, MLB’s World Series and the NFL regular season.
The “bubble” scenario at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex was unprecedented in its scope and operations, but achievable because of Silver’s dogged determination to see it through. Silver brought together a range of groups — including the NBA Players Association along with its television partners, as well as health officials on call to administer strict COVID-19 protocols.
“Nobody thought we were going to spend months in a [bubble],” Silver said during a recent Reuters interview prior to the league’s Nov. 19 NBA Draft. “Ultimately, we concluded that’s the best we could do under the circumstances.”
Silver’s deft work with the players union on emphasizing social justice and racial equality messages throughout league play also earned him accolades across the sports world.
If that wasn’t enough, Silver has the league in position to start its 2020–21 season in December — the shortest period between seasons in NBA history. With the league set to play during its traditional winter/spring time period with a shortened, 72-game schedule, Silver has the league poised to continue its successful play as one of the pre-eminent pro sports leagues.
“We feel comfortable that the protocols that we’ll have in place in our practice facilities and our arenas will keep our players safe,” Silver said to ESPN. “We’re set out on a course to open on Dec. 22, but we will undoubtedly be learning new things every day.”
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.