Adam Silver says NBA is prepared to change plans if coronavirus protocols fail

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during an interview before Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during an interview before Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Oct. 4, 2020, in Orlando, Fla.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The NBA doesn’t have a formal threshold for canceling games or suspending the season, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on a conference call Monday, although returning to a bubble situation could be a possibility.

The league launches its regular season Tuesday during a critical time in the pandemic with caseloads in Los Angeles and other NBA cities spiking. Silver’s wide-ranging interview touched on a number of subjects, including when the NBA should receive the vaccine, if players will continue to kneel for the national anthem and how fans will be allowed to return to arenas.

“There are not firm numbers on this. I think it’s somewhat similar to the guidance we were given when we went into the bubble,” Silver said. “The view is I think if we found a situation where our protocols weren’t working, meaning that not only did we have some cases of COVID but that we were witnessing spread either among teams or even possibly to another team, that would cause us to suspend the season. I think we are prepared for isolated cases. In fact, based on what we’ve seen in the preseason, based on watching other leagues operating outside the bubble, unfortunately it seems somewhat inevitable. But we’re prepared for all contingencies.”

Those contingencies might include a return to some kind of a bubble, though the league is hopeful that the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine could allow for a widespread return of fans inside league arenas. As the season begins, six teams will have limited fans inside buildings.


The Clippers and the Lakers will not have fans for the time being.

“There are lots of issues around how fans will move in and out of the arenas, how our protocols, newly put-in-place protocols, in terms of physical distancing of fans and mask wearing, will fans be able to eat and drink while in the arenas, as well,” Silver said. “There’s all these very new issues for us. I think that as we get our sea legs, with some teams bringing in fans, other markets see the success, we hope, of bringing in at least an acceptable number of fans early in the season, that it’ll mean that we can begin having more fans in our buildings.”

From the expected load management to the unknown of a pandemic-stricken season with no bubble protection, the 2020-21 NBA season will offer unique challenges.

Silver insisted the NBA wouldn’t push aside people to get its hands on the vaccine, vowing to wait its turn.

“In no form or way will we jump the line. We will wait our turn to get the vaccine,” he said. “… My hope that when we are eligible that members of the NBA community will want to get vaccinated, and it’s our plan to be involved with governmental efforts in terms of public messaging as to the benefits of taking the vaccine.”

After player-led protests against racial inequity and police brutality during the national anthem inside the NBA bubble, Silver said he hoped the league would again stand for the song, a league rule the NBA stopped enforcing, though it’s an ongoing discussion with representatives of the league’s players.

“It’s a national ritual of sorts that I think is something that I hope personally isn’t lost, because there are very few things that bring us together these days. It’s my expectation going into the season that we’re going to return to the practice that’s been part of this league for many decades, and that is standing for the national anthem,” Silver said.

“Having said that, we have a partnership with the players, and so we’ve all had these discussions. It’s my hope that if we do something in terms of deciding to rethink it, it’s done collectively. There’s always been this notion that this league is bigger than one team, one player, one league office. I think it’s why we’ve been so successful over the years, because we really do come together and work through in some cases very difficult issues.”

Houston and Golden State met in the 2018 Western Conference finals as the NBA’s top teams. Now they’re struggling to find their identities and make the playoffs.

As the league searches for new revenue, the issue of expansion has gotten more air time in league circles, though Silver said it’s not on the front burner for the NBA.

“It’s an economic issue and it’s a competitive issue for us,” he said. “So it’s one that we’ll continue to study, but we’re spending a little bit more time on it than we were pre-pandemic.”

The league also commented on its discipline of the Milwaukee Bucks, who the league investigated after a reported sign-and-trade deal for Bogdan Bogdanvoic before the opening of free agency. Monday, the NBA stripped the Bucks of their 2022 second-round pick.

“We saw a violation and we acted and penalized the Bucks. It’s our hope that that will act as a deterrent to any other team who would attempt to engage in similar type behavior,” Silver said.