Coronavirus Outbreak: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says league is 'not in a position' to make decision on restart
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held a video conference with journalists around the world to address the impact of coronavirus on the league, the steps being taken to ensure the safety of players and officials and the parameters under which the league could resume again
On Friday night, after the NBA Board of Governors meeting, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held a video conference with journalists around the world to address the impact of coronavirus on the league, the steps being taken to ensure the safety of players and officials and the parameters under which the league could resume again.
Here is a transcript of the conversation:
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has long advocated an in-season tournament. Reuters
File image of NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Reuters
Q. You stated that you wanted to keep some sense of normalcy. Can you share anything about the tone of the meeting, the tone of the day?
We had two special guests presenting to our board by video conference. One of them was Dr David Ho and the other was Bob Iger. Dr Ho is a world-renowned infectious disease specialist at Columbia University who has been working with the league since the early '90s. Bob Iger of Disney, again is one of the largest partners of the NBA. He most recently moved into the position of Executive Chairman, but he's someone that we all had known for a long time at the NBA given our long-time relationship with ABC and ESPN and the Disney Company.
I think these are all extraordinarily successful people. There's very much a roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do attitude about them. I think to the extent there's frustration, it's over how little control they and we have over the situation.
I think in some ways to hear Dr Ho, a world-leading infectious disease specialist, Bob Iger, one of the most respected CEOs in the United States, both reaffirm that we all have to accept that we're operating with incomplete facts here, at least I think for them validated sort of the position we all find ourselves in.
No doubt there is a fair amount of angst because at the end of the day they're like everyone else in the United States, Canada, who is dealing with a shelter-at-home protocol. I think they're more frustrated around the larger societal issues. I'd say these are people who also see an opportunity for the NBA to be a leader. I think we all know we were one of the first businesses to shut down at the beginning of the pandemic recognition in the United States.
I think there is a sense that we can continue to take a leading role as we learn more in coming up with an appropriate regimen and protocol for returning to business. I think there's a recognition from them that this is bigger than our business, certainly bigger than sports, and that there is great symbolism around sports in this country, and that to the extent we do find a path back, it will be very meaningful for Americans.
Q. As you talked to the health experts, including Dr Ho, I understand you said it's about the data and not the date, but what kind data are you looking for when it comes to coronavirus and a return to play?
I think we're looking for the number of new infections to come down. We're looking for the availability of testing on a large scale. We're looking at the path that we're on for potentially a vaccine. We're looking at antivirals. On top of that, we're playing close attention to what the CDC is telling us on a federal level and what these various state rules are that are in place.
There's a lot of data that all has to be melded together to help make these decisions. But that's part of the uncertainty. I think we're not even at the point where we can say, 'if only A, B, and C were met, then there's a clear path.' I think there's still too much uncertainty at this point to say precisely how we move forward.
Q. Are there some baseline markers or standards that are going to have to be met before you can consider returning, even without fans?
I know it's frustrating — it is for me and for everyone involved in the NBA — but I'm not in a position to answer your question because this goes back to what Dr Ho said, that there's still enormous uncertainty around the virus, as well.
There's a lot that's changing quickly. We may be in a very different position some number of weeks from now. But it was why I initially announced at the beginning of April that I felt with confidence we wouldn't be able to make any decisions in the month of April. I should clarify that I didn't mean to suggest that on 1 May, I would be in a position. I just think as I sit here today, there's too much unknown to set a timeline, even too much unknown to say, here are the precise variables.
We know we need large-scale testing. As for universal testing, there are different tests being proposed. They may have different uses in different situations. It goes without doubt that we have to ensure that front-line healthcare workers are taken care of before we begin talking about NBA players or sports.
Q. How would you describe the amount of appetite there is among ownership for finding a way to resume this season versus just cancelling and trying to hold next season properly?
My sense of the NBA team owners is that if they can be part of a movement to restart our economy, that includes the NBA. They almost see that as a civic obligation.
I think though on the other hand there is no appetite to compromise the well-being of our players. In terms of priorities, if you begin with safety, we're not at a point yet where we have a clear protocol and a clear path forward where we feel that we can sit down with the players and say, this is a way to resume the season.
Without that we really haven't engaged in discussions about whether or not it's better or worse to begin focusing on next season.
I can say that I think all these team owners are in this business because they love the game, they love the competition. I know from my conversations with players, they feel the same way. But when you're dealing with human life, that trumps anything else we could possibly be talking about.
Q. This weekend would have been the beginning of the playoffs. Does this mean it's safe to rule out any form of a regular season or is that still technically an option?
I mean, it's absolutely still an option. Everything is on the table. I mean, it's clear that if we are to resume play, we're looking at going significantly later than June, which is historically when our season and draft would have been completed.
The direction that the league office has received from our teams is, again, all rules are off at this point given the situation we find ourselves in, that the country is in. If there is an opportunity to resume play, even if it looks different than what we've done historically, we should be modeling it.
As I've said in response to some of the earlier questions, the issue we still have is we don't have a good enough understanding of exactly what the standards are that we need to meet in order to move forward.
I think we reaffirmed today, it seems like the experts don't necessarily either. That's where we find ourselves. But by no means does it mean that we don't see an opportunity to play regular-season games still this season.
Q. How much is this already affecting the teams financially? How much are you hearing from owners and teams and organizations that have maybe already asked executives and employees to take pay cuts about how much this disruption has already cost them?
Yes, part of our discussions was about the team financials. Our revenue, in essence, has dropped to zero. That's having a huge financial impact on the team business and the arena business.
Of course, it's part of our jobs to project out into the future what that will mean for the NBA and the team business as we go out into the summer and then into the fall.
There is a strong recognition that there are thousands of jobs impacted by the NBA, not just the players and the basketball staff. When you include the day-of-game arena workers, the NBA is responsible for roughly 55,000 jobs.
That goes to my earlier comment about recognising that while this virus is, of course, a dire public health issue, so is shutting down the economy. I think it's why the league sees it as our obligation to the extent we can resume play in a safe way to look at every potential way of doing so. That's what we're doing now.
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