NBA moving toward restarting season at Disney campus in Florida

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After months of uncertainty and speculation, the NBA announced Saturday its first formal step toward returning to play during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, the league said that it had begun negotiations with the Walt Disney Company to host a single-site campus for games, practices and housing for players and staffers at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida. The NBA, which indefinitely suspended its 2019-20 season on March 11, said it was targeting “late July” to resume games.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved,” the statement said. “We are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”

The NBA is expected to return to the court in multiple phases, according to people with knowledge of the league’s thinking, with an initial quarantine period to accommodate the arrivals of players. More than half of the NBA’s 30 teams have reopened their practice facilities for individual workouts, but others remain shut out due to local government orders.

While the Wide World of Sports complex, which is part of Disney World, has been closed during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been rumored as a top destination for a single-site campus for weeks due to its sprawling layout, ESPN affiliation and the support of local government. The 230-acre complex has thousands of hotel rooms and multiple facilities capable of hosting games and practices, theoretically allowing the NBA to limit contact between its players and the outside world. ESPN is one of the NBA’s major media partners, and Disney executive chairman Bob Iger addressed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the Board of Governors in April.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who reopened restaurants, gyms and barbershops at limited capacity on Monday, said that leagues like the NBA will have the full support of local government in his state.

“All these professional sports are going to be welcome in Florida,” DeSantis said earlier this month. “If you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida. We think it’s important and we know it can be done safely.”

Even so, numerous logistical questions and safety issues remain for the NBA, which could still consider other locations, like Las Vegas, to host games this summer. It is not yet known how many teams will be involved in the resumed games, whether games will resume with the regular season or proceed directly to the playoffs, or what type of playoff format will be utilized. NBA general managers were surveyed Friday for their preferences on these subjects, the Athletic reported, with a wide variety of scenarios included as options.

Public health experts have concluded that the coronavirus, which has led to the deaths of more than 95,000 Americans, is transmitted more easily indoors and in close-contact situations. Those conditions are particularly challenging for a full-contact sport that is played inside, and NBA teams to this point have strictly instructed players to practice social distancing during workouts at their facilities.

Testing remains another concern. Players are expected to receive regular temperature checks and coronavirus tests upon their return. The nasal swab testing method is viewed as invasive and its results aren’t immediate, while doubts remain about the efficacy of other testing methods.

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