The 2019–20 season of the National Basketball Association officially resumes today, at least on paper. In truth, the eight seeding games and the playoffs present little to no continuity with the first four-fifths of the campaign, and not just because they will be held under a different set of circumstances. Even the league itself acknowledges the contrasts, adopting the slogan “Whole New Game” for its bubble environment. At this point, it’ll gladly take any semblance of normalcy for its setup at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. “Where Amazing Happens” doesn’t seem to be apt in a situation that has it hoping for the best while in the midst of a pandemic.
Of the two matches on tap for the reopening at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, the second figures to generate more attention. The Lakers and Clippers, pegged by all and sundry to meet in the Western Conference Finals, will be burning rubber, and their encounter provides a legitimate look-see on the NBA experiment’s potential for success. And, make no mistake, an experiment is precisely what it’s conducting; its stringent enforcement of all-encompassing health and safety protocols has led to zero infections to date, a remarkable outcome given all the many ways they can be breached, and when juxtaposed with the setbacks being experienced by other organized sports leagues, including, most recently, Major League Baseball.
To be fair, much of the interest is likewise generated by the promise of the set-to itself. The Lakers and Clippers could conceivably take things easy through their seeding schedule; their respective places in standings are by no means locked up, but the absence of any true homecourt advantage on campus has devalued traditionally coveted spots. Instead, they’re bent on showing their best, if for no other reason than to claim bragging rights. Never mind that they boast of changed or incomplete rosters. The names on their jerseys and the final score are what matter.
And so the NBA has gone all out to trumpet today’s feature presentation. It’s determined to show the world that it can more than hold its own amid chaos, and that its principal product is a decidedly plus for stuck-at-home fans starving for familiarity. In this regard, it’s fortunate to have stars that will shine no matter what. When the marquee includes the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Paul George, it’s not likely to have any problem parading its best on the floor. At the same time, it knows ultimate success will depend most on what happens off the court between contests.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.