If you’re like me, the COVID-19 pandemic has likely corroded your sense of time. March 11 simultaneously feels like yesterday and three years ago. In actuality, it was just over three months ago when Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the coronavirus and the NBA season was promptly suspended. That started a domino effect that eventually put every active sport in the country on hiatus.
In the NBA world, though, the news hasn’t stopped despite a lack of games. As we near what appears to be a return to play in Orlando, it’s time to take stock of what’s transpired over the last three months—both to see how precarious the situation has been at times and how quickly things have pivoted from a wary, risk-averse state to a momentum-fueled return. Here’s a recap:
March 11: The season is suspended
I’ll never forget watching League Pass the night of March 11 and seeing the Thunder mascot try to act like everything was fine as the players, coaches, and staff of the Thunder and Jazz left the court in Oklahoma City. It was surreal. This came after it was announced that Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. The Mavs and Nuggets were still playing, as were the Hawks and Knicks—John Collins said the players found out the league was suspended via coaches on the bench. The late Pelicans-Kings game was canceled after players didn’t want to leave the locker room.
March 12: Donovan Mitchell tests positive, and the first timeline emerges
The day after the season was suspended, it was revealed that Donovan Mitchell, Gobert’s teammate, had also been diagnosed with COVID-19. That same night, during a TNT appearance, commissioner Adam Silver said the league’s hiatus was going to last “at least 30 days.” But there was a sense, even at the time, that such a timeline was premature.
March 13: Mitchell is frustrated; money talks begin
It didn’t take long for the narrative to get solidified: Mitchell was reportedly frustrated with Gobert over his behavior before being diagnosed with the virus. If you recall, in the days leading up to March 11, Gobert joked about the virus, even touching all the reporters’ microphones during a press conference and licking his hand after. As often happens in the NBA, the discussion instantly turned into whether this rift could be fixed and whether this would affect Gobert’s trade value should the Jazz choose to part ways with him. Funny how we were still thinking in basketball terms at this point.
A more important thing also happened that day: The NBPA emailed players about the possibility that owners could withhold a portion of the players’ salary due to a force majeure clause in the CBA. Money was starting to enter the picture.
March 15: A premature timeline, no more G League
Concern grew as the CDC came out with a recommendation that no events with 50 or more people should take place for at least the next two months. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that NBA owners believed the “best-case scenario” was a return to play in mid-to-late June with no fans.
Also on this day: A report came out that the G League was likely to be canceled (Narrator: It eventually was), and the league sent teams a memo saying players could leave their teams’ cities during the stoppage.
March 17: Nets players, Kevin Durant test positive; the league begins some housekeeping
Teams that had recent contact with the Jazz began testing players, and the Nets said four of their players came away with positive diagnoses. The Athletic’s Shams Charania later reported that Kevin Durant was one of the players who had tested positive while being asymptomatic. The league, meanwhile, began looking ahead by starting to accept entries for draft evaluations from college players, nearly doubling its credit line to prepare for the financial windfall of a condensed season, and fielding some public relations backlash about the amount of tests that would have to go to players in a restart.
March 19: More positive tests, no more practice
As Marcus Smart took to social media to say he had tested positive for the coronavirus, and the Nuggets, Sixers, and Lakers all saw players and staffers test positive too, the league officially shut down all of its practice facilities and prevented players from attending gyms, fitness centers, and college facilities. As one trainer told me, he and an NBA player tried shooting at an outdoor court in OKC. It did not go well.
March 20: No pay cuts … yet
The NBA and NBPA have had ongoing discussions on this issue -- and a number of others. The NBA can withhold 1/92.6 percent of a players' salary per cancelled game -- about one percent of an annual salary.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 21, 2020
March 24: The Sixers miss the mark; Karl-Anthony Towns opens up
Oh, the Sixers. On this day, the franchise announced it would ask at-will employees making over $50K to take a 20 percent pay cut. Philly was the first organization to venture into these waters, and it immediately backfired. The Sixers were rightfully hammered by the media, and their own player, Joel Embiid, pledged $500K to help out affected employees. By the end of the day, the organization had reversed course and promised to pay full salaries.
The 2020 Olympics were also postponed to 2021 on this day, and later that night, Karl-Anthony Towns posted an emotional video to his Instagram revealing that his mother and father had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and that the virus had put his mother in a coma.
March 31: Pay cuts loom
The final day of the eternal month of March featured an announcement from the NBA and NBPA that the league was considering withholding 25 percent of players’ checks under the CBA’s force majeure clause.
April 3: Good riddance, Bulls front office
Ownership has discussed the plan with Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson and GM Gar Forman, sources said. Paxson is likely to continue in an advisory role with franchise; there are expected to be more conversations with Forman about his future too. https://t.co/zLRRfjsFey— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 3, 2020
It was the last dance for GarPax, too.
April 4: A horse in the hospital, a horse on the court
Sports commissioners joined President Donald Trump on a conference call where Trump made it clear he felt sports should return. Silver then had to explicitly state that the league would return only when health officials deemed it possible. (On a related note: Dr. Anthony Fauci called the NBA’s plan to return “creative” this week.) Meanwhile, in what equated to a half-court heave with the clock running down, it was reported that the NBA and ESPN would televise a H-O-R-S-E tournament featuring NBA and WNBA players. We were really desperate for anything at this point.
April 6: The NBA and NBPA work on fast-results testing
Sources tell ESPN that the NBA & NBPA have been collaborating in assessing rapid-response testing devices that in theory could yield accurate results within minutes, a process that represents a critical first step toward potentially resuming play. Story: https://t.co/S4xGTZ3QxX— Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) April 7, 2020
April 8: Hello, new Bulls leadership
After a quick round of interviews, the Bulls settled on Arturas Karnisovas of the Denver Nuggets to be their new president of basketball operations.
April 9: Still no pay cuts
NBA will pay players full checks on April 15, league tell teams in a memo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 9, 2020
April 13: Jacqueline Towns, mother of Karl-Anthony Towns, dies at the age of 59
April 16: The G League gets an upgrade
Even without a proper end to the G League season, April 16 felt like a landmark day for the NBA’s minor league. One of the top prospects in next year’s class, Jalen Green, announced that he was bypassing college and committing to the G League’s pro pathway program. The NBA announced it will be starting a G League select team for Green and other prospects who choose this route, with a special game schedule and a staff of experienced coaches to help prepare them for the NBA. It’s difficult to see the move as anything other than a shot at the NCAA’s antiquated model.
April 17: Actual pay cuts are announced
ESPN Sources: The NBA and NBPA have agreed on the withholding of 25 percent of each player paycheck beginning on May 15. Deal gives gradual reduction in salary should Force Majeure provision be enacted with cancellation of regular season games. May 1 checks will be paid in full.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 17, 2020
April 25: Teams can open facilities, but do they want to?
As states around the country began to open up, the NBA said teams could start reopening facilities on May 1.
April 27: … Teams don’t want to
A few days after the aforementioned news, the Hawks said they wouldn’t open their facility to players yet, and other teams expressed wariness. The NBA, apparently, was already working to push back the May 1 date it had set initially.
May 1: Moving day
May 5: The Jazz tweet through it
Jazz vice president Dennis Lindsey said in an interview that Donovan Mitchell is ready to move on from the issue he had with Rudy Gobert back in March when both tested positive for COVID-19. Mitchell remained quiet on the issue.
May 6: We’re talking about open practice
After some hesitation, a handful of teams opened up their facilities. The NBA advised teams to not test asymptomatic players who come to practice. Also: No head coaches allowed. Mark Cuban, meanwhile, said it was still too risky for him to allow the Mavs’ facility to open.
May 8: Silver speaks to players
The lack of testing for asymptomatic players made teams wary to open up facilities, so the league found a loophole. In cities where there was readily available testing for frontline workers—not the general public—teams could give tests to asymptomatic players. Meanwhile, in an hour-long call between Silver, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts, and the players, Silver tried to make it clear that tough days were ahead. He told players that 40 percent of the league’s revenue comes from tickets and other in-arena spending, and that there are no guarantees they’ll have fans back next season. This is when Silver first floated the possibility of returning to play in two centralized locations—Orlando and Las Vegas—and told everyone to prepare for the inherent risk that will come with returning to play without a vaccine.
May 12: The informal, formal poll
Woj reported that NBPA regional reps texted players a “yes or no” question about wanting to return to play. The NBPA said no formal poll was sent out to players, so Woj explained there were group texts and informal questions being asked among players. The result? Most players said they wanted to come back and play.
The sentiment from the board of governors call with Silver that same day echoed the players’ wishes. Suddenly, there was optimism that a return to play would be possible. What about positive tests? Silver told the BOG that to consider playing, they would have to be comfortable with there being positive tests. In two months, we went from a positive test shutting the league down to a positive test being a mere speed bump.
May 18: Bojan Bogdanovic’s season is over
Utah Jazz F Bojan Bogdanovic is undergoing season-ending surgery on his right wrist, sources tell ESPN. Full recovery expected for start of 2020-21 season. He's averaged 20 points per game for Jazz, fourth-seed in West.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 18, 2020
May 20: More progress is made toward a testing program
ESPN reported that all 30 teams will participate in an antibody-test program headed up by a Wolves doctor. In addition, teams said they were expecting guidelines on how and when to recall players back to home markets.
May 23: It’s official: The NBA wants to go to Disney World
After multiple reports linked the NBA to Disney World in Orlando, the league made it official and said they were in negotiations with Disney to use their facilities for the league’s restart.
The NBA has entered into exploratory conversations with the Walt Disney Corporation about restarting the remainder of its season at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida in late July, NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said Saturday.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) May 23, 2020
May 26: Pick a format, any format
With a return to play feeling more and more like a certainty, the league discussed a variety of ways to restart the season. First, it was reported that the league was considering a World Cup–style format with group play. While the idea was interesting, it quickly became clear that the NBA was also looking at more plausible scenarios that involved anywhere from all 30 teams to only the 16 playoff teams being invited to Orlando.
May 29: The road toward a consensus begins
There was a board of governors call in which Silver and the owners discussed the various format possibilities and their financial implications. The owners were expected to approve whatever format Silver recommended. In a GM survey, the majority voted to go straight to the playoffs. But the format that gained the most traction was the 22-team scenario that would invite all playoff teams plus five West teams and one East team within six games of a playoff spot to Orlando.
June 1: What about the non-playoff teams?
More details from the BOG meeting emerged: Some owners were still trying to bring back all 30 teams to Orlando.
June 2: Basketball in October
ESPN Sources: As the NBA models a 22-team format for a July 31 resumption in Orlando, the proposed timeline for teams as the last possible date for an NBA Finals Game 7: October 12.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 2, 2020
June 3: The 22-team format, explained
With all signs pointing toward the league approving the 22-team scenario, reports said there will be eight games before the playoffs begin, giving teams out of the playoff picture a chance to get to within four games of the 8-seed in each conference. If they do, it would prompt a play-in game. Should the 8-seed win the play-in, they’re in. Should the 9-seed win the play-in, they would have to win another game and then they would be in. Got it?
June 4: Decision day
As expected, the BOG approved the 22-team format with a 28-1 vote. The lone dissenting vote went to the Blazers, who felt there were better formats for their specific interests. Good for them. More details about what the day-to-day schedule will look like emerged: five to six games each day, each team having a back-to-back game, and only one day of rest in between playoff series since there’s no travel. The league also released revised dates for both the lottery and the draft as well as tentative dates for free agency, next season’s training camp, and the start of next season, too.
Target NBA schedule from '19-'20 to '20-'21 season— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 4, 2020
∙ Training camp - July 9-11
∙ '19-'20 season - July 31-Oct. 12
∙ Draft lottery - Aug. 25
∙ NBA Draft - Oct. 15
∙ Free agency - Oct. 18
∙ '20-'21 training camp - Nov. 10
∙ '20-'21 season start - Dec. 1
(via @wojespn) pic.twitter.com/H1C8N60DKn
Meanwhile, coaches began to push back against the possibility that some coaches who are over 65 will not be allowed to be on the bench.
June 5: Players say yes to the dress
As expected, the players approved the 22-team format. We also got a total number of people expected to be in the bubble (1,600), and got robbed of any wishful thinking that Kevin Durant might play. Officially. Kyrie Irving said he won’t play, but that he might join the Nets in Orlando as a fan from the bench. About that.
June 8: Sneaky Spurs
The procedure was performed April 24, per the Spurs, so they’ve known for weeks that they wouldn’t have LaMarcus Aldridge when the season resumed. https://t.co/uOxSoIvQDp— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) June 8, 2020
Those Spurs games are going to be brutal to watch.
June 10: On second thought ...
A number of players began to wonder whether playing is a good idea given the restrictions inside the bubble, health risks, and the social justice movement that’s currently taking place across the country. The league and players union are hammering out a deal that says players who opt to not go to Orlando will not be punished, but they will lose a portion of their paycheck.
June 11: New dates are announced
The initial restart got moved up a day to July 30, and Woj spelled out the timeline for how teams will leave the Orlando campus.
Some timetables on 22 teams in Orlando:— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 11, 2020
6 teams eliminated after 35-40 days (based on play-in elimination).
14 total teams will be gone by 53 days, at latest.
June 12: Kyrie speaks up
On a call led by Kyrie, players expressed their opinions about whether restarting the season is the right move given the optics of basketball being used as a distraction to take away from the current Black Lives Matter moment.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving said. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
Others said that they could use the platform they have in Orlando to actually send a strong, unified message. The NBA, meanwhile, continued to stay on course, announcing training camp times and dates that players needed to report to their home markets by. Head coaches are now allowed to be in workouts starting June 23.
June 13: More money, more potential problems
Friday’s players’ call was not just about social justice issues. According to ESPN, young players like Donovan Mitchell and De’Aaron Fox raised the question of whether there would be injury insurance given that they, along with other players from their class, are eligible for max extensions this offseason. Lou Williams gave voice to the concerns that Kyrie Irving discussed on the call with players:
I never said I wasn’t gonna play. But everyday all we see on espn is NBA coming back. On cnn I see another black man killed by police last night. I don’t expect you to understand cause u don’t have a platform. So borrow mine. Say something that’ll make mom proud. Go https://t.co/QkbpHq9Ppg— Lou Williams (@TeamLou23) June 13, 2020
June 15: Damage control
Michele Roberts sprang into action and, according to ESPN, is having ongoing discussions with players about what they could do to influence the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the report, the status of the league’s restart does not appear to be in jeopardy.