When the Finals end, whether as early as this Friday or as late as next Tuesday, the real work for the NBA and NBPA will begin, as they must come together to figure out exactly how to proceed with the 2021 season and beyond.
Adam Silver has made it very apparent that next season likely won’t start until January or later, and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts echoed that sentiment to The Athletic’s Shams Charania in an interview on Tuesday. Roberts said that the “latter part of January, February” makes the most sense for the start of the 2021 campaign, with hopes of having some fans in arenas through rapid testing as it is becoming more readily available.
Roberts noted that starting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day would be great, but also could still be a bit too early, depending on what happens with the pandemic over the winter months. Whatever the case, starting in January or February or later, there will be ramifications on the schedule for years to come from pushing the 2021 season back. As Roberts sees it, it’s an opportunity to experiment with an idea that’s picked up steam in recent years, which is to start on Christmas and avoid most conflict with the NFL — pushing the NBA Playoffs into July and August, rather than May and June. She told Charania that she “wouldn’t bet” on the old October to June schedule ever coming back after this.
Even before COVID happened, there was a conversation about starting our season later. Why compete with football in the fall? Why don’t we start our season around Christmas? It may very well be that our regular schedule is going to change, not so much because of COVID, but because of the ability to experiment. I wouldn’t bet on returning to the old normal.
It’s a conversation that’s come up at times, with some falling on all sides of the issue. Some players, particularly those with children, like following the school year model that gives them summers off, but starting on Christmas Day, when many fans really begin tuning in to NBA action anyways, would allow them to avoid having to deal with football — the league tries to avoid Sundays as best they can until January and February currently — and would put them in a position to have their most meaningful games in the summer when there’s far less competition for eyeballs.
At the same time, there is a question of whether there are as many eyeballs to draw during the summer months, as we’ve seen ratings dip across the board with sports being moved to late summer, early fall this year. That, of course, could simply be [gestures at the overall hellscape we live in] and not that people don’t want summer sports, but it will be something the league will monitor next season and beyond to see if a permanent shift is worthwhile.
The ramifications of moving to a December to August schedule are numerous, but the TV partners might enjoy having more programming that isn’t in competition with the NFL and college football. There would be implications reaching as far as the WNBA and how it would effect their scheduling, as they play in many of the same arenas as the NBA, as well as TV deals for the W, but they’ve enjoyed tremendous success this season in terms of viewership running right alongside the NBA.
A permanent shift in the sports calendar would certainly lead to groans and complaints from fans, as happens with any major change, but ultimately it seems inevitable. Just one of the sure to be many long-term impacts of living in a post-COVID (hopefully) world.