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NBA to return as board approves return-to-play plan

The NBA’s board of governors approved a return-to-play plan on Thursday, paving the way for the league to resume in Florida following a three-month coronavirus shutdown.

The NBA said a proposal put to the league’s board that will see 22 teams based at a single location had passed comfortably.

“We are in the equivalent of the first inning. We’ve got a long ways to go here,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told American cable station TNT on Thursday night. “We have always been looking for a safe way to resume, knowing we are going to be living with this virus for a while.”

Twenty-nine teams voted in favor of the return-to-play plan, with Portland the lone vote against, according to reports.

Under the NBA’s proposals, the league would resume on July 31 with 22 teams based at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando to minimize the threat of COVID-19. Games will be played without spectators.

Playoffs would take place in August, with the NBA Finals set to be completed by October 12. 

The league has also penciled in a provisional December 1 start date for the 2020-2021 season.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” Silver said.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.”

The NBA Players Association must sign off on the restart plan for it to take effect. The NBAPA is expected to vote on the plan during a conference call set for Friday.

Silver said there are still some complex issues to be decided, including how to ensure the safety of some of their older coaches. He indicated that “certain coaches” may not be on the bench at all. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is 71, and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is 65.

Silver meanwhile referred to the protests that have erupted across the United States since the death of an unarmed black man in police custody in Minneapolis last week.

“We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways,” Silver said.

Quarantine, testing 

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 as the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, leaving professional sport in North America at a standstill.

Sixteen teams occupying the playoff berths in the Western and Eastern Conferences will be joined by six more teams to determine the final playoff line-up.

Nine teams from the Eastern Conference will be led by the Milwaukee Bucks and the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors. 

The Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards complete the contingent from the East.

The Western Conference will provide 13 teams, including LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Each of the 22 teams will play eight regular-season games for seeding purposes for the postseason.

The league plans for teams to start training camps in their home cities on June 30 before travelling to Orlando on July 7. 

The league wants to have daily testing, and if a player tests positive, he would be isolated and quarantined. 

The others would carry on playing while still being tested on a daily basis.

This year’s regular season was halted abruptly after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive. 

Gobert, of France, was given the all-clear about two weeks later.

So far, less than a dozen NBA players have been confirmed as testing positive for the coronavirus, although not all have been identified.

The NBA is the first major professional sports league disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak in North America to confirm a return date.

Although the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer have both announced plans to return, neither league has revealed details of when they expect competition to resume.

Major League Baseball meanwhile remains mired in a bitter contractual wrangle between teams and players with no clear idea of when the season may start.

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