The National Basketball Association was considering several different scenarios to keep players and fans safe as the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States grew more severe.
But when one of its players came down with the virus, North America’s most progressive sports league went with the nuclear option: they shut it all down.
The NBA chose to indefinitely postpone its regular season, a decision that will almost certainly cost the league millions of dollars in revenue in the short term.
The decision was unprecedented. It left league insiders shocked. Players appeared to have no idea it was coming.
Few are faulting league commissioner Adam Silver for taking such extreme measures to keep people safe, but the financial impact will be massive. The NBA and its teams have television contracts worth billions of dollars to air games that may no longer take place. Thousands of fans have purchased tickets to watch those games.
Those revenues don’t just help pay the multimillion dollar salaries for NBA players, coaches and executives – they help pay for janitors to clean arenas, the staff who sell food and concessions, and the security guards who keep fans and players safe.
But perhaps even more importantly is what this decision means for the other big US sports leagues, and sports around the world. The NHL is in the middle of its regular season. Europe’s soccer leagues are in full swing (save for Serie A in Italy, which is suspended while the country is on lockdown.) Major League Baseball kicks off later this month. Euro 2020 is this summer. The Tokyo Olympics kick off in July, and then the NFL will start up again in August.
The NBA has in recent years enjoyed a reputation as North America’s most progressive sports league and has not shied away from sacrificing profits to stand behind its values.
Its decision to postpone games means the pressure is now on other sports leagues to follow suit, especially if the outbreak continues to increase unabated.
If they do not, they risk appearing as if they value profits over player and fan safety.