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The National Basketball Association has rightly made participation in the restart of the 2019–20 season voluntary. With the novel coronavirus still spreading — and evidently with greater frequency in Florida, where the competition is slated to resume — and safety concerns giving otherwise-healthy quarters pause, the league has made it a point to give them all the information and time they need to make a decision with which they will be happy. Needless to say, it aimed for complete attendance, but acknowledged the goal to be a pipe dream in the face of all the uncertainty.
The news that 16 of 302 players tested positive for the novel coronavirus is among the biggest pieces accompanying the National Basketball Association’s announcement of the restart of its 2019–20 campaign. Lost in the excitement of pro hoops returning to the mainstream come July 30: the fact that nearly six percent of the base got flagged. It’s a hefty number, particularly when juxtaposed with national and worldwide totals. On the other hand, the sample size is admittedly too small to make a determination one way or the other; for corrective purposes, it holds value only as a reminder of the need for the league to continue taking extraordinary precautions in ensuring the well-being of its stakeholders.
As expected, the National Basketball Association is pushing ahead with its plan to restart the 2019–20 campaign despite all the uncertainty caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. With its future literally at stake, the league felt it had no choice but to exhaust any and all measures possible in reclaiming a significant part of the season it was compelled to indefinitely suspend last March 11. And, notably, safety remains at the forefront of its efforts; the measures it has instituted have been lauded by no less than Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an influential member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Of all organized sports, golf has been seen as the one best equipped to return to action while in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Its very nature lends well to the implementation of measures required to minimize risk; it’s a non-contact endeavor held outdoors, with players able to traverse the course by themselves throughout any given round. And for doubters, The Match: Champions for Charity served to allay fears; last month’s exhibition saw crossover stars Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning sticking, with relative ease, to safety guidelines through 18 holes of play.
Of the 22 franchises in the National Basketball Association slated to head to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort for the resumption of the 2019–20 campaign, the Raptors have the toughest hurdles by far. For instance, cross-border considerations — significant under normal circumstances and downright restrictive in light of the pandemic — have compelled them to set their assimilation schedule even ahead of the players union’s efforts to come up with a consensus on participation in the bubble.
If there’s anything the postponement of the players’ decision on Major League Baseball’s latest proposal to terms governing the 2020 season shows, it’s that external factors remain major stumbling blocks to any agreement. The union’s executive board scuttled formal voting, originally scheduled today, after franchise facilities were affected by coronavirus infections, leading to a league-wide closure of training camps. When they will reopen and when ballots will be filled and counted remain up in the air. Clearly, safety considerations come first.
In a bid to reinstate a semblance of regularity to organized tennis, the men and women’s tours yesterday released its provisional calendars marking the resumption of sanctioned competition in August. On one hand, it’s still a month and a half away, giving the Association of Tennis Professionals and the Women’s Tennis Association leeway to establish safety protocols for event participants while in the midst of the pandemic. On the other, it’s just a month and a half away, with not quite enough time in between to pin down the moving target that is the novel coronavirus. There are risks involved, especially in light of the sport’s global nature; depth of field is directly tied to mobility, which is currently restricted for obvious reasons.
Uncertainty has gripped the National Basketball Association’s plan to restart its 2019-20 campaign, with a significant number of players rightly considering the personal and collegial repercussions of engaging in sports while other seemingly more pressing concerns make demands on their time. The good news is that the second-guessing, regardless of how it was spurred, has ramped up discussions on safety and civil liberties, the very discussions required to secure accession to — and ensure maintenance of — the planned bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida.
First things first: Opinions can and will vary over time. People are entitled — and, given the introduction of significant information, actually enjoined — to alter their thought processes and beliefs, even value systems. Outside of fundamental mores and ideals, anything is fair game. In life, the only thing constant is change. Which is to say Kyrie Irving has every right to oppose the move of the National Basketball Association to resume the 2019-20 campaign under extraordinary circumstances shortly after he got behind it.
Make no mistake. The 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge is a big deal. It isn’t normally one of the prime stops on the United States Professional Golfers Association Tour, but its status as the first tournament to be held since the sport shut down in mid-March has compelled players to dust off their clubs and show up at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Save for reigning Masters champion Tiger Woods, just about all the marquee names are on tap, never mind the stringent measures set up to ensure an acceptable measure of safety in the face of the global pandemic.
The National Basketball Players Association’s imprimatur on the resumption of the 2019–20 season was to be expected. With heads of the union kept in the loop through every step of, and actually included in, the decision-making process, getting the ranks to agree on the general proposition didn’t require any arm twisting. Certainly, the collegial approach adopted by commissioner Adam Silver helped in no small measure; for as long as all and sundry can remember, he views those with a stake in the principal product as partners and not adversaries. Accordingly, the trust he has built over time is precisely what they remember when he puts forth radical ideas; they understand from the get-go that collective interests are being forwarded.
For National Basketball Association fans, news that practically all players want to return to the court as soon as possible can’t but be deemed positive. Even with the Board of Governors expected to unanimously fall behind Commissioner Adam Silver in his plan to restart the 2019–20 campaign with a mishmash schedule that incorporates a truncated transition to the playoffs, genuine safety concerns still exist at a level that presents not insignificant risks to purveyors of the league’s principal product. Having them compete in a bubble and limiting their physical contact with extraneous quarters present a whole new set of complications.
The Last Dance has come and gone, and, in the aftermath of the initial broadcasts of its 10 episodes, engendered criticisms on the veracity of parts of its overarching narrative. Considering the last-say position of principal protagonist Michael Jordan both on and off camera, certain quarters have seen fit to look beyond the series’ entertainment value and cast a critical eye towards its worth as a factual chronicle of events. Even some of those who were part of the Bulls’ historic run for a second three-peat through the 1997–98 season found cause to buck its evident bias.
Make no mistake: Everything needs to go right before the United States Open can be held in September. It certainly doesn’t help that Winged Foot Golf Club lies smack dab in Westchester County, New York, among the areas in the United States most affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. And even with state officials cautiously relaxing quarantine measures and, in fact, pushing for the resumption of sporting events, there is the not so insignificant hurdle of mobility. Ensuring the participation of the usual field of 156 players — who will be coming from any number of locations, including outside the country — presents unprecedented logistical concerns.
From the looks of things, the resumption of the 2019–20 campaign of the National Basketball Association has become a matter of when, not if. The pressure is certainly there, with the league and franchise owners bent on recovering part of revenue streams projected to reach an aggregate $10 billion before the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic hit. Even with competition compelled to be held behind closed doors in adherence to health and safety protocols and income from foot traffic — said to account for around 40% of the aggregate — thusly reduced to zero, proceeds from broadcast rights can at least be salvaged.
The Match: Champions for Charity went about as well as could be expected. No, scratch that; it went much, much better than expected. Not that it had high hurdles to begin with as the second go-round for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The first, held last November 2018, ran into significant technical difficulties, prompting AT&T and other streaming distributors to issue full refunds for the pay-per-view spectacle. And even if the broadcast proceeded smoothly to warrant the $19.99 price tag, the entertainment value through 22 holes left much to be desired.
“Like” wasn’t a word many normally associated with Jerry Sloan. Armed with a singular experience growing up in Hamilton County, Illinois, that informed his small-town ethic, he played hard and worked hard. He earned a reputation as a rugged, no-nonsense defender who gave as much as he took. Chosen fourth overall in the 1965 draft, he spent a year as a reserve for the Bullets, and then the rest of his 11-year career epitomizing the Bulls’ leave-everything-on-the-floor style under Red Kerr and Dick Motta. He then applied what he learned from the aforesaid bench tacticians, and more, to carve a path as one of the most demanding to ever pace the National Basketball Association sidelines.
Among the many offshoots of the airing of The Last Dance has been the revival of “Best of All Time” discussions in hoops circles. That Michael Jordan reportedly decided on thumbing up the production of the documentary series shortly after LeBron James, against whom he is often pitted for the accolade, engineered a remarkable comeback in the 2016 National Basketball Association Finals speaks volumes of his mindset, not to mention competitive spirit. He had previously sat on comprehensive behind-the-scenes footage of the Bulls’ title run in 1998, content in his place at the top.
Even without the foreknowledge that the ninth and 10th episodes of The Last Dance were completed extremely close to their airing date, the countless viewers who have tuned in to see them since they became available over the weekend would have noticed the documentary series’ weary legs. In stark contrast to the back-and-forth narrative style that permeated previous episodes, they mostly stuck to one that focused on the Bulls’ last two seasons, and particularly in the playoffs. Which, interestingly enough, made for compelling drama despite the obvious denouement. If nothing else, the focus served to overcome the unavoidable handicaps of the story being told in snippets and ultimately enhance the vicarious experience.
Novak Djokovic was on top of tennis just two months ago. A record eighth Australian Open crown and a fifth Dubai Tennis Championships title followed Serbia’s 6-0 ATP Cup run with him at the helm -- all clear indications that he was in the midst of yet another dominant turn to start the year. Unfortunately, the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic compelled the sport to grind to a halt; competitions were suspended indefinitely, leaving him in the dark as to when he could resume his quest to be the best of the best of all time.
The National Basketball Players Association denied the other day that it asked members if they want “to try and play again this season.” Its statement, coming within hours of ESPN scribe Adrian Wojnarowski’s tweet disclosing the “yes or no” query its regional representatives supposedly sent its ranks via text messages, was, however, notable for construction. “The NBPA is not engaging in and has not authorized any formal poll of its players,” it said. Which is to say it could have engaged its constituency exactly as reported: in an informal, non-scientific manner.
Little outside of the ultimate outcome could adequately explain away Michael Jordan’s singular abrasiveness throughout Episodes Seven and Eight of The Last Dance. Heading into the new week, much of the run-up to the release of the latest episodes of ESPN’s documentary series was devoted to underscoring the surprise -- shock, even -- of director Jason Hehir in the face of its principal protagonist’s willingness to be portrayed negatively. And if any further proof was needed to mark the behavior as abhorrent, it was in his pronounced disbelief that the best of the best in the sport allowed the inclusion of unflattering footage. Stripped to basics, his view was as much a unique selling proposition as an indictment of the truth.
It’s easy to understand why Tom Thibodeau wants to coach again. He’s a hoops lifer -- always has been, and always will be. It doesn’t matter that he was a relative flop in his last stop; he had dual roles with the Timberwolves, and he couldn’t even sniff mediocrity in both. He drafted poorly and made questionable deals as president of basketball operations, including that which had him shipping Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn to the Bulls for what turned out to be a short rental of erstwhile favorite Jimmy Butler. More tellingly, he couldn’t coax any semblance of consistency on either end of the court from resident stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and the rest of his roster as their head coach; his offensive and defensive predilections were anachronous to the prevailing pace-and-pace style of play.
Fans past the halfway point of The Last Dance cannot be faulted for deeming it a gift that keeps on giving. Episodes Five and Six, released Monday, come with the air of inevitability that permeates all documentaries chronicling the past, and yet proves continually compelling all the same. The series’ microscopic look at the 1997-98 season all and sundry know the ending to benefits from the willing, even enthusiastic, participation of its principal protagonist. Indeed, Michael Jordan, whose voice invariably carries heft because of his status as the best of the best of all time, opens his thoughts and feelings in a manner that sheds new light on history. It’s his light, granted, but one that unveils a unique perspective on already-established facts.
Jeremy Lin didn’t exactly have an amicable parting of ways with the Knicks in 2012. He was just five months removed from a run of games that plucked him from obscurity and catapulted him to the limelight, and yet his place with the orange and silver proved far from secure. Resident superstar Carmelo Anthony considered him a threat (and an undeserving one, to boot), and so he viewed his future to be better elsewhere. And he was proven right; for all the front office’s pronouncements that any contract offered to him would be matched, he was allowed to walk away and head to the Rockets as a free agent. True to form, though, owner James Dolan didn’t forget the perceived slight; at no instance in the next seven years was he given any acknowledgment as a visitor at the Madison Square Garden.
Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers haven’t always been friends. In fact, their relationship arguably started off as icy at best. The latter was selected 24th overall in the 2005 draft precisely to replace the former, who hitherto remained outstanding for the Packers, but who nonetheless appeared to be on the downside. Pride, not coincidentally that which fueled their competitiveness and success, got in the way of smooth interpersonal relations. “My contract doesn’t say I have to get Aaron Rodgers ready to play. Now, hopefully, he watches me and gets something from that,” the incumbent starter then defiantly told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Which, creditably, the quarterback-in-waiting did, the absence of active mentorship (and petty pranks) notwithstanding.
Monday’s release of the third and fourth episodes of The Last Dance has brought to the fore the intense rivalry between the Bulls and Pistons during the years spanning the late eighties and early nineties. While director Jason Hehir strives to show an unfiltered unveiling of the proceedings, there can be no mistaking the roles they play in the ESPN documentary series. And even from the vantage point of casual observers, the portrayals are to be expected. For one thing, principal protagonist Michael Jordan provides the clearest lens from which a significant part of the National Basketball Association’s history is seen. For another, the two sides have -- through time, then as now -- seen fit to embrace their predetermined colors.
Assuming everything goes according to plan, the United States Professional Golfers Association Tour will be holding the Charles Schwab Challenge in June, the country’s first full-field sporting event since the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic shut down organized tournaments in March. The catch, of course, is that “everything” falling into place seems farfetched at best under these circumstances. For all the inherent advantages golf offers in terms of implementing social-distancing measures, there remain significant logistical hurdles before the first of the circuit’s 28 planned events through 25 weeks from resumption of play can take place. Foremost is the need for federal, state, and local officials to sign off on it.
Not a few quarters have seen fit to take the Patriots to task in the aftermath of the deal that had them sending hitherto-retired Rob Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick to the Buccaneers for a fourth-round pick. The three-time Super Bowl champion had already put up a body of work that placed him in rarefied air when he felt compelled to hang up his cleats in 2018; while fresh off a successful run to the top of the National Football League, he spoke of being worn down by the physical nature of the sport, needing a whopping 12 surgeries since being chosen 42nd overall in 2010 just to stay on the active roster. At the time, he left the titleholders hanging, with one season still left on his contract. Now, he gets to be reunited with quarterback Tom Brady while his erstwhile employers seemingly get little in return.
Most everyone who loves basketball -- and a fair share who have, at best, a casual interest in the sport -- will have already watched the first two episodes of The Last Dance. Compelled to stay home because of quarantine measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019, they will have been intrigued by the prospect of seeing living legend Michael Jordan behind the curtains as he led the Bulls through the 1997–98 season and to its sixth and final National Basketball Association championship. And they will have come away equally impressed and perturbed at the unabashedly candid look the documentary series afforded them.
For a player so transcendent on and off the court, Michael Jordan exuded an aura of mystery that all and sundry simply accepted. What fans knew of him, they did so because he afforded them a peek into his guarded life. True, there were rumors galore, but their spread and proliferation served only to underscore the degree with which he guarded his privacy. That said, his philosophy for success was clear early on; he would do anything and everything to win. Nothing was sacred. Everything was fair play. And it was precisely because of his single-minded quest for perfection that he proved to be his own worst enemy.
Of all organized sports, tennis is argued to be among the easiest to plan for in transitioning to a post-COVID-19 setup. It presents few challenges, at least on paper. It’s a non-contact endeavor, with players, line judges, ball boys, and the chair umpire theoretically able to practice social distancing throughout any given set-to. Then again, it’s one thing to think about the match itself, and quite another to consider both what should come before and what happens after. Relevancy requires that it be part of a tournament, thus presupposing the involvement of hundreds more, at minimum, even absent spectators — from other competitors to coaches to medical teams to organizers to service professionals.
Rudy Gobert was his candid self when he spoke on Instagram Live at the weekend. As the first player in the National Basketball Association to officially test positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 and the trigger for the league to suspend the 2019–20 season, he could have had his experience affect him negatively. Instead, he went the other way, putting the spotlight trained on him to good use by continually promoting good health and safety habits. True, it was penance for the flippant manner in which he treated social distancing measures. On the other hand, there can be no discounting how actively he has tried to make up for his unfortunate misstep. And so we went on social media anew to spread the word as witness to the pandemic’s ill effects.
It spoke volumes about the competitiveness -- or, to be more precise, lack thereof -- of the HORSE matchup between Zach LaVine and Paul Pierce that its most memorable segment involved the former recounting his experience in the shadows of a 40-year-old Kevin Garnett while a rookie with the Timberwolves. Indeed, the 13th overall pick of the 2014 National Basketball Association draft dominated the Challenge, blanking the 2008 Finals Most Valuable Player with an array of shots that highlighted his athleticism and silky smooth touch. Never mind that the rules disallowed any dunking and effectively negated his inherent advantage over the rest of the field.
DeAndre Ayton seemed to have the perfect strategy to win the NBA 2K20 Players-Only Tournament. He picked teams with varied styles in order to match up well with opponents. And because he could use a given team only once while making his way to a projected championship, he made sure to choose in the moment judiciously. And, indeed, he wound up tapping the Lakers and Bucks in his last two games. He had already used the Rockets, Clippers, Suns, and Nets en route, leaving him with the two powerhouses and the Jazz and Pelicans against real-life teammate Devin Booker in the finals.
Wimbledon is gone for the year, and, while expected, the decision of the All England Lawn Tennis Club nonetheless underscores the gravity of the situation in which humanity finds itself. Notwithstanding the vagaries of holding a fortnight’s worth of topnotch competition on extremely fickle perennial ryegrass, the tournament has been around since 1877, and through all of history save for a six-year period covering the Second World War. And yet, organizers felt compelled to scuttle the proceedings, chucking tradition, however reluctantly, in favor of public safety given concerns on the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019.
For hoops fans, and especially for those who followed the National Basketball Association through the Bulls’ Dynasty in the nineties, ESPN’s decision to move up the release of The Last Dance two months to April 19 is a welcome one. With the new coronavirus pandemic forcing most countries in the world to implement quarantine measures, the broadcast giant will most certainly be serving the 10-part documentary to a captive audience. As the Lakers’ LeBron James argued on The Road Trippin’ podcast of former teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye last week, “if I’m Michael Jordan, I’m going in there and I’m making a conference call and I’m like, ‘Okay, what’s the reason that we’re going to hold onto it until June now? Compared to now when everybody is at home?’”
There can be no discounting the power of celebrity when it comes to raising awareness for a cause. It was certainly on display over the weekend, when the Warriors’ Stephen Curry went on Instagram Live for the better part of half an hour to talk about the new coronavirus. It helped, of course, that he had Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, by his side. “Information is power,” he noted, and promptly discussed the importance of taking preventive measures with the key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
In the midst of the National Basketball Association’s suspension of its 2019–20 campaign, not a few quarters have argued that the development benefits the Lakers’ LeBron James. After all, they claimed, he’s a relatively old 35, with significant miles on his odometer and in need of rest. Significantly, it’s a narrative that he’s pushing back against. And it isn’t merely because, prior to the league making the decision to hold the season in abeyance, he had just come off a productive weekend that saw him lead the purple and gold to victories against the Bucks and Clippers, noted powerhouses and deemed to be their biggest stumbling blocks en route to a projected championship.
The National Basketball Association has invariably been at the forefront of social activism. Unlike most other significant organized bodies in sports, it hasn’t been afraid to stand up for the needs of the greater community of which it’s part even at the expense of its stakeholders. In this regard, it’s fortunate to have progressive officials who take the long view and understand that, often, moving forward means first taking a step back. Earlier this month, for instance, it didn’t think twice about suspending the 2019-20 campaign after it recorded its first positive new coronavirus case. And then late last week, some 100 of its top officials saw fit to voluntarily take whopping pay cuts -- equivalent to a fifth of their salaries -- in order to ease the effects of the pandemic on other employees.
To argue that the National Football League has been having a bizarre offseason would be to understate the obvious, and not simply because of the continued threat of the new coronavirus pandemic. For the first time in a long, long while, quarterbacks aren’t in demand. Erstwhile Patriot Tom Brady was a target of suitors, certainly, and for more reasons than 20 years’ worth of achievements show. For others who have had significant burn under center, however, the free-agent market doesn’t seem to be inviting at all. Even as unease and accompanying movement have historically been tied to the most important position relative to success, 2020 appears to be setting itself up as an outlier.