by Christopher Castro
COVID has ravaged the NBA season this year. In the midst of a global pandemic, the NBA has continued to strive for the safest basketball possible. Nevertheless, their efforts have only remained minorly fruitful.
Over three dozen games have been rescheduled this year due to COVID, according to ESPN. Rescheduling so many games is ridiculous. Consistently being inconsistent will only lead to future uncertainty in the league. Constantly changing predetermined contests will cause issues with future major events, like the all-star game and the playoffs. Besides this mundane inconvenience, the main problem still presents itself: players’ health and safety. “Several teams have more than 10 players who have tested positive [for COVID] at some point over the past nine months”, according to ESPN. Karl Anthony Towns, a two-time all-star for the Minnesota Timberwolves, has especially been ravaged by COVID. Over the course of 2020, he had six family members lose their lives fighting Covid-19. Then, he lost his mother only a few months later to the disease. Now, he’s caught it himself in 2021. He isn’t alone either. Numerous players have caught COVID while some have even been reinfected, and while it has fortunately not led to any deaths of any NBA players, it’s clear the NBA is putting the needs of another group ahead of the players: the fans.
Fan attendance has made a return. According to the NBA, arenas will be limited to 10-25% capacity and just nine NBA teams will host home games, so it’s quite clear the NBA is trying to be safe. Fans sitting within 30 feet of the court are not allowed food or drink and must have had a rapid COVID test the day of the game. The Miami Heat have even begun implementing COVID dogs to sniff out the lines of fans before entering the arena. This is quite the number of protocols to get people in these few areas around the country. With COVID still averaging just over 118,000 new cases per day in February of 2021 (New York Times), it’s clear the world is not logistically safe enough for the NBA to open its doors. However, The NBA just needs a single reason to work so diligently on bringing back the fans: money.
It’s no secret the NBA took a major dip in revenue during the 2019-2020 campaign. They dropped by 10% of their yearly revenue, just hitting 8.4 billion dollars (Forbes). Most of these losses were, unsurprisingly, from ticket sales and merchandise/sponsorships, being about 1.2 billion dollars in total, according to Bobby Mark of ESPN. Further studies from the NBA concluded that if they were unable to start allowing fans and their money generation, revenue for the 2020-2021 season could drop more than 40%, or approximately 4 billion dollars. Whether or not it’s a good enough moral reason to start bringing people in the doors, people need to get paid. The NBA is a large conglomerate of food, merchandise, & private entities. These facilities have thousands of people under their payroll and face having to cut corners if nothing changes. Facing such predicaments, the league didn’t really have much of a choice.
The NBA is just worried about money. I understand it’s a business and revenue needs to be generated, but bringing fans into the equation is ridiculous. There must be another way for the NBA to find creative revenue streams that don’t risk player safety. Setting up another NBA bubble worked before, although the financial gain from it wasn’t as impressive as they had hoped. We don’t really know the long-term effects of COVID. These players that are catching the disease could have catastrophic future symptoms, especially when being world-class athletes and pushing their bodies to their limit. I’m not experienced with running a multi-billion dollar league, but I do know a lot of smart people work behind the scenes for the league. I trust Adam Silver, the commissioner, but I know money talks. We have come to a point during this pandemic where we have become complacent. We don’t take the threat of COVID as seriously as we did six months ago. We have become weary and mentally drained from the longevity of this virus. This does not make it morally right, however. I just hope putting the fans and the bottom dollar above the long-term health of the players is worth the risk.
As a fan of the NBA, it breaks my heart to have such a limited capacity of watching the games. Being at the games can’t be beaten. As bunches of loud and yelling crowds squash around your seat, potentially being fans from either team and constantly bothering you is magic. When needing to awkwardly squeeze past 15 people in order to get out of your seat and to the stairs, it’s horrible and embarrassing. Not being able to have a single inch of breathing room as you try to find the bathroom during halftime just like the 15,000 other people are. But, dammit, that’s the magic of it. You aren’t there to just see the game, or buy overpriced merchandise, you’re there for the community. You’re there to be around people with seemingly the same passion as you, especially when seated up in the nosebleeds and nearly touching the ceiling. That energy, whether your home team scores and everyone around you screams in vigor, or when you lose and a collective sadness can be felt, is all a part of the experience. Bantering with opposing team’s fans, especially when they’re on your home floor, and having that constant blood-pumping energy can’t be beaten. It’s why we love sports. It’s why I love sports. But the players aren’t just there for our amusement. They’re fathers, brothers, uncles, and sons. Their lives and safety matter and they will not just shut up and dribble.