This is the new normal. Another day, another major sporting event scrubbed from the calendar.
On Monday, as the novel coronavirus continued to wreak havoc on our world, the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are apparently.
The news delivers the same echoes of frustration felt as other major sporting events have been canceled or postponed: Frustration. The economic and competitive losses for all involved. The growing unease of what’s happening, compounded by the bizarre absence of the sports that in the past we could rely on in times of trouble or stress. And a sense that, yes, this was what needed to be done.
But in this news, at least for the NBA, sits a silver lining. And we should take all of those we can get.
By shifting the start of the Olympics from July 24 to an undetermined future date, the IOC could clear for Adam Silver and the rest of the NBA a major logistical hurdle in their efforts to get their own events back on track once the time comes. The league could now eye games in July and August without having to worry about conflicts arising for its biggest stars having to make a choice between choosing the Olympics or the NBA.
That certainly was a possibility. Every day that passes without NBA games — and there is likely to be many more — shifts pressure on the league to expand the season into July and August when the world goes back to normal.
Silver told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols last week that playing games beyond June was certainly a possibility.
“I will say that the conventional television calendar has changed so much, certainly since I got into this business,” Silver said. “Prime time means something very different than it used to now that people in essence carry televisions around with them in their pockets.
“The summer is viewed differently than it was historically from the television standpoint, so regardless of whether we had been going through all this, it’s something that the league office together with our teams has been spending a lot of time on. And we have a lot of our team owners who are technologists, media mavens by background, and so it’s something that committees of owners and league officials have been working on a lot, especially over the last year or so.”
It’s a good idea, and one that had traction before COVID-19 altered the course of most everything, including the NBA season. Before the outbreak and unrelated to the pandemic, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin had advocated shifting the season back two months. That would allow the league to start things off on Christmas Day, and have playoffs that run until mid-to-late August, and avoid competing against the NFL during the fall.
When the NBA postponed the season two weeks ago, and as the reality of a massive number of missed games took hold, Koonin’s notion suddenly looked more like a solution than a sales pitch. The NBA could take his advice this summer, crown a champion in some form, and get a sense of what the proposal would look like for long-term consideration.
One problem: The Olympics.
Basketball’s most important stars had been scheduled to head to Japan shortly after the NBA Finals to compete for gold on behalf of their respective nations. Had the Games gone on, the NBA and its players faced yet another brutal choice: Whether stars like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo would chase gold for their respective countries, or chase an NBA championship for their respective teams.
That difficulty, at least, has been removed.
There are many, many more problems to overcome, no doubt. But in a chaotic and uncertain time, at least there’s some good news in the IOC’s decision. And that, even if its small consolation, is worth holding onto.