Could Disney World be the NBA’s knight in shining armour?

NBA have opened discussions to finish 2020 season at ESPN sports complex in Florida

The NBA have opened discussions to finish the 2019/2020 season at Disney World. Photograph: Daniel Slim/Getty/AFP

The NBA have opened discussions to finish the 2019/2020 season at Disney World. Photograph: Daniel Slim/Getty/AFP

 

While nobody knows anything for certain, all signs are pointing to the NBA at least attempting to resume its season – which was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic – possibly as soon as July. One of the biggest questions the league will have to answer is where the teams will actually play. It turns out the answer may involve the Magic Kingdom. Yes, the NBA has set its sights on Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, something which probably raises quite a few questions among sports fans.

What, the Walt Disney World? The one with Mickey Mouse and Space Mountain?

The one and the same. On ESPN’s First Take, Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green confirmed reports that the league was seriously looking into playing games at Disney World. “It looks like we have multiple options for locations, but I think leaning toward Orlando and Disney to where it’s the safest,” Green said.

Soon afterwards, the NBA released an announcement through spokesperson Mike Bass: “The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing.”

Does the plan make any sense?

Oddly, yes. If the NBA were to restart the season, they would want to limit the number of people involved. The ideal spot would be a controlled, centralised environment in order to lower the risk of outside infection. As the NBA’s announcement notes, Disney World would provide its own housing accommodation for players and staff in the form of hotels, as well as basketball courts that could handle both practices and official games.

It’s hard to imagine a place more controlled than Disney World, especially since it’s owned by a private entity. It also doesn’t hurt that the teams would be situated in Florida, which seems to be determined to reopen at a quicker pace than most other states in the US. (Whether or not this is especially wise is another question altogether.)

How did the idea first come about?

It was first raised a few weeks ago by Yahoo Sports writer Keith Smith, who wrote an extended piece (which bordered on an advertisement, at times) about how Disney World would be the perfect place for the NBA season to resume. It seemed, on paper, to be a ludicrous idea – and some noted Smith is a former Walt Disney World employee. But unconventional problems call for unconventional solutions, and Smith’s idea promptly gained traction within the league itself.

How exactly would this work?

Let’s make this clear: players won’t be shooting hoops among the rollercoasters. In an interview with SB Nation, Smith made a strong case that it wouldn’t take much to convert pre-existing spaces into basketball courts. “[The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex] has three primary indoor facilities that would be the hub of this,” Smith said. “I assume two would be set up for games. The third is a giant, customisation space. I think they lay out courts in there for practices and possibly shootarounds … if necessary, Disney could convert some of their own convention space into practice areas.”

Le Bron James in action for the LA Lakers on March 10th, shortly before the NBA season was suspended. Photograph: Harry How/Getty
Le Bron James in action for the LA Lakers on March 10th, shortly before the NBA season was suspended. Photograph: Harry How/Getty

Would playing at Disney World cheapen the 2019-20 season?

For some, sure. For starters, it isn’t yet known whether the league could make up all of the regular season games that have yet to be played. Even if all goes to plan, we could end up with a shortened season. In fact, the league could decide it would make more sense to skip right to the postseason.

Also, having all the games take place in one location would render home-court advantage essentially meaningless. Even in the best-case scenario, a NBA champion crowned at Disney World would probably “feel” different for many fans. One doubts that the NBA itself is too concerned that people won’t take the remainder of this season seriously – it’s not like the league has had any issues associating its brand with animated characters in the past.

What would be the biggest drawbacks?

They would be the same drawbacks as trying to continue the NBA season anywhere. Any plan will require frequent testing for Covid-19, not just of the players but of the other NBA and Disney World employees who would be in regular contact with them. Obviously, anyone testing positive would have to be immediately quarantined and, should the number of positive tests get out of hand, the league would probably be forced to shut down for a second time. If that happens, it could very well be the end of the season.

Right now the league is having discussions with coronavirus testing providers. This leads us to another problem: NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made it clear that the season won’t resume until there are enough tests for the rest of the country. Will we be there by July? That’s impossible to say right now.

Then, of course, there’s the worst-case scenario: let’s assume the season starts up again and, as a direct result, somebody gets infected and suffers life-altering health effects or dies. What if there are multiple coronavirus-related deaths because of the resumption? It’s something that will weigh on the minds of those deciding whether to play in the middle of a pandemic. Is the NBA so eager to crown a champion for the that it is willing to risk a tragedy at the so-called Happiest Place on Earth? The answer is starting to look more and more like “yes”. - Guardian

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