“The most important aspect,” Cuban said, “is that the players and staff that are traveling are treating each game as a self-imposed bubble.”
Six of the league’s 30 teams have decided, after receiving clearance from local jurisdictions, to allow a reduced number of fans into their buildings as the season begins: Cleveland, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Utah and the Toronto Raptors, who have temporarily relocated to Tampa, Fla., because the Canadian government refused to allow teams to enter the country without 14-day quarantines. Memphis originally planned to do the same but the Grizzlies announced Sunday, after allowing fans into two preseason home games, that they had amended their policy.
The eight teams that were not invited to the bubble, Golden State among them, have not played a game that counts for more than 280 days. The Lakers and the Miami Heat, after battling for six games in the N.B.A. finals, were back in training camps less than eight weeks later. There will be rest and recovery inequities for numerous teams over the 72 regular-season games — down from the usual 82. The league compressed the schedule by 10 games to avoid infringing upon next summer’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and, most of all, to get on track for a return to its customary October-to-June calendar for the 2021-22 season.
Orlando’s Evan Fournier expressed sympathy for the ultratight turnarounds that his Lakers and Heat peers face, but said: “The rest of the league, we’ve got to play.”
That became a near-universal view once it was made clear to the N.B.A. players’ union that the difference between a pre-Christmas start and opening on Martin Luther King’s Birthday on Jan. 18, as many players had hoped, would lead to a revenue shortfall of at least $500 million.
Things were so different in March, when the N.B.A. was the first major professional sports league to suspend play in response to the coronavirus outbreak and instantly became an exemplar for sports organizations worldwide. Nine months later, with a coronavirus outlook still so dire, other leagues aren’t waiting around to take cues from the N.B.A. Seemingly every organization in sports is trying to sculpt its operations manual to find a workable balance between risk-taking and economic necessity.
The N.B.A. is about to re-enter the fray in earnest — this time trying to learn from what other leagues have done wrong.