Adam Silver's Tone Tells Us All We Need to Know

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Adam Silver held a conference call with reporters on Friday. Not because he had anything to announce. But because with the NBA Board of Governors (virtually) meeting this week, tradition dictated he should.

Silver’s update on the status of the NBA season?

“We are not in a position to make any decisions,” Silver said. “And it’s unclear when we will be.”

What about the isolation options, quarantining players in one location, like Las Vegas?

“In terms of bubble-like concepts, many of them have been proposed to us, and we’ve only listened,” Silver said. “We’re not seriously engaged yet in that type of environment.”

Is Silver optimistic the season can be re-started? Pessimistic?

“I don’t mean to send any signals about the likelihood or not of restarting the season,” Silver said. “All I can say is we’re still at a point where we don’t have enough information to make a decision … I know it’s frustrating – it is for me and for everyone involved in the NBA – but I’m not in a position to answer the question … there’s still enormous uncertainty around the virus.”

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Every day that passes, every week that goes by without the U.S. turning a corner on containing the coronavirus, the chances of the NBA season resuming grow dimmer. Silver was clear that there are specific criteria that need to be met for the league to move forward. The rate of new infections has to decrease, significantly. Testing needs to become more available. There needs to be a path towards a vaccine or antivirals.

In short: The world needs to look a lot different.

“There’s a lot of data that all has to be melded together to help make these decisions,” Silver said. “But that’s part of the uncertainty. I think we’re not even at the point where we can say, ‘if only A, B, and C were met, then there’s a clear path.’ I think there’s still too much uncertainty at this point to say precisely how we move forward. The underlying principle just remains health, safety, and well-being of NBA players and everyone involved. We begin with that as paramount and then the decision tree moves forward from there.”

Silver has taken an appropriately somber tone in recent interviews. This one, though, felt more pessimistic. Dr. David Ho, a noted infectious disease specialist with a long relationship with the NBA, spoke to the Board of Governors on Friday, reiterating that there was still much that was unknown about the coronavirus. After previously announcing that the league wouldn’t make any decisions in April, Silver clarified that there were no guarantees any decisions would be made in early May, either.

“I just think as I sit here today, there’s too much unknown to set a timeline, even too much unknown to say, ‘Here are the precise variables,’” Silver said. “We know we need large-scale testing. As to the universal testing, there are different tests being proposed. They may have different uses in different situations. It goes without doubt that we have to ensure that front-line healthcare workers are taken care of before we begin talking about NBA players or sports.”

Looking for optimism? It’s clear NBA owners will wait as long as possible to squeeze in some kind of postseason. “Everything is on the table,” Silver said. “Including potentially delaying the start of next season.” The league is clearly feeling the financial squeeze. The NBA announced an agreement with the union to reduce player compensation, beginning with a 25% pay cut that will begin May 15th. Silver said team owners see it as a “civic obligation” to be a part of restarting the economy, though it’s clear the cratering economy has had a sizable impact on them. Said Silver, “Our revenue, in essence, has dropped to zero.”

“The direction that the league office has received from our teams is all rules are off at this point given the situation we find ourselves in, that the country is in,” said Silver. “If there is an opportunity to resume play, even if it looks different than what we’ve done historically, we should be modeling it.”

And so, the NBA waits. Silver said the NBA will operate on its own timetable, though he said none of his discussions on the federal level—the White House named Silver and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to an advisory committee this week—have been “inconsistent with ensuring player health and safety.” The NBA is exchanging information with Chinese officials, including Hall of Famer and head of the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao Ming, as China attempts to overcome similar obstacles. At some point there will come a drop-dead date, though Silver says the NBA is not ready to set one.

Want the NBA to resume its season?

Silver does, too.

Want a specific date it can?

Silver, as much as he would like to, can’t offer one.

“I can say that I think all these team owners are in this business because they love the game, they love the competition,” Silver said. “I know from my conversations with players, they feel the same way. But when you’re dealing with human life, that trumps anything else we could possibly be talking about.”