The NBA bubble is over. Attention now turns to the 2021 season, and perhaps the most important item on the agenda has already begun to get contentious: the season's start date.
The NBA reportedly wants to start the season on December 22. This would be only be two months and 11 days after the conclusion of the 2020 season. The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat would be hurt the most by that start date, with very little time to recover from what was a standard grueling playoff run in a very non-standard year. However, reports are emerging that the players would much rather start the season around Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in January. This is a battle that is only beginning and will be waged fiercely over the next month.
The league's desire to start as early as possible can be boiled down to one simple reason: money. Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski reported for ESPN today that the league lost 10 percent of its revenue due to the season's postponement and the lack of fans in attendance. The China debacle also cost the league around $200 million. The pair also reported that the NBA told organizations that those numbers could be significantly higher if there are no fans in attendance for the entirety of next season, with a $4 billion loss in revenue a possibility. A 10 percent drop in revenue is manageable in these times, but four billion dollars is significantly more harmful, shall we say.
The league wants the games to start as soon as possible to help recoup some of what was lost and mitigate the impact of the current circumstances on the 2021 bottom line. Fully packed arenas may be a long way off, and it's unclear how the math would work in terms of how many fans would be allowed into an inside arena as opposed to something like an NFL stadium, where many teams are now allowing 10 percent capacity. But if any fans at all can be there, the NBA would be happy to have them. Starting that early would permit the 2021 season to end around the same time as a normal season would, allowing for a more regular offseason than the forced four-month hiatus that occurred this year. It would also let the NBA play on Christmas, the only big holiday where it is indisputably king in the sporting world.
On the players' side, they probably don't see the rush. This season is going to be weird anyway, so ending in early June likely isn't a big priority for them. The NBA would be getting the same amount of money regardless-- hell, they might even get more if games go later than usual and the coronavirus pandemic lessens to the point where fans could pack arenas to bring in even more dough. That extra month would be huge in terms of rehabilitation for any teams that went deep into the playoffs and help prevent any injuries that might occur as a result of less time off than the body is accustomed to.
This is all occurring while the NBA will try to figure out how to hold an entire season in the midst of a global pandemic. They can't do a bubble again. The Orlando version only featured 22 of 30 teams and cost the league $190 million. They managed to recoup $1.5 billion in revenue from it, so it was a lifeline for this year, but it isn't feasible to do it again. It would be unwise to rush into anything. But money makes the world go 'round, and the sooner games are back on, the more evidence the NBA has to point to its investors that this is all manageable.
This fight is only getting started. The league will probably win out over the players, but not without some major concessions made to the union and definitely not without a back-and-forth via media like with Chris Haynes above. We'll be getting basketball next year, but when it will come is the big question for everyone involved.