National Basketball Association (NBA) owners on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a restart plan featuring 22 of the league’s 30 teams at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, next month to complete what the league described as the “first formal step among many required to resume the season”.
The proposal was ratified by a 29-1 vote, with the Portland Trail Blazers the sole opposition.
According to league rules, a minimum of 23 votes was required to pass the measure put forth by commissioner Adam Silver.
The NBA announced after the vote that the league and the National Basketball Players Association remained in negotiations to “finalise a comprehensive season restart plan”.
It hopes to establish “a rigorous programme to prevent and mitigate the risk related to Covid-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices” in the coming weeks.
The NBA will be the largest and most-watched North American sports leagues to return, following announcements by the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League that they will resume play in the summer.
Major League Baseball, however, remains mired in a bitter contractual wrangle between teams and players with no clear idea of when the season may start.
Under the NBA’s return-to-play plan, the league will resume on July 31 behind closed doors.
The players’ union will review the proposal and it is believed the close working relationship union president Chris Paul maintains with Silver is indicative of the common desire to approve the plan.
“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 finalised with public health officials and medical experts,” Silver said in a statement.
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.
To earn one of the 22 invitations to Disney World, teams had to be within six games of a play-off berth as of March 11, when the NBA abruptly suspended the season in response to the outbreak.
Joining the 16 teams that occupied post-season spots on that day – 12 of them have already clinched their berth – are five teams from the Western Conference (Portland, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns) and Washington Wizards from the East.
Ten teams will be fighting for the four remaining play-off positions, while seedings for those who have qualified can still change depending on how the remainder of the “regular” season pans out.
An eight-game slate for all 22 teams has been planned, meaning they would play between 71 to 75 games, down from the usual 82-game format.
Play-offs would take place in August, with the NBA Finals set to be completed by Oct 12.
The cancellation of some 171 regular season games may cost players around US$600 million (S$836 million) in salary, though that exact process has yet to be worked out .
The season is therefore over for the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and the New York Knicks.
The NBA also confirmed it plans to hold this year’s draft on Oct 15, with next season’s start date tentatively planned for Dec 1.