Martin Luther King Jr. Day would be an appropriate tip-off for the NBA season, considering these social-justice times. The Post reported that possibility back in September, when commissioner Adam Silver was imagining fans in team’s home arenas.
Upon further COVID-19 pandemic review, however, starting up the new season at Christmastime would be a wiser, better gift for NBA fans.
Fans of the “Delete Eight’’ clubs, including the Knicks, that didn’t get to play in the NBA bubble where this past season was completed, haven’t seen their teams play since March 11. They deserve some holiday cheer.
But that’s not really what this debate, between the NBA Board of Governors and Players Association, is about. Both sides have solid arguments but are still far apart. Friday night, the NBA and union announced they had pushed back Friday’s deadline to restructure the collective bargaining agreement, which includes next season’s schedule, to Nov. 6.
Silver, because of the coronavirus spike this month, realizes sacrificing right now with a fast start-up of Dec. 22 — and a Dec. 1 training camp — is the way to go for the good of the league’s suddenly shaky future.
Because of the worsening pandemic, Silver and his owners realize fans won’t be piling into indoor arenas whether the opener is in December, January or February.
The new goal of the league, sources said, is to put together a 72-game slate with reduced cross-country travel. In that scenario, the subsequent 2021-22 season can go off on its normal October-to-June trajectory — perhaps with New Yorkers packed together underneath the Garden’s famous ceiling again.
The television ratings for the fan-less games were dismal in the late summer. October’s NBA Finals with LeBron James and the league’s marquee franchise, the Lakers, drew the lowest viewership in Finals history. Silver was stunned, and nobody can confirm the reason for the ratings dip, but he now realizes even the surging NBA is not impervious to the pandemic.
The players, as articulated by union president Michele Roberts, want a longer break, especially James’ Lakers. Living in the Disney World bubble was mentally taxing, even if all participants were spared any of the grueling plane travel and were housed in gorgeous resorts.
Lakers swingman Danny Green, of Long Island, said James may sit out the first month of the season if Dec. 22 is opening night. Let him — as long as King James suits up opening night for the ring ceremony and on Christmas, the bonanza day of its television partners.
“Certainly, it creates some challenges,’’ Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told The Post. “But challenging times require adaptation. I have no doubt we will be fine.’’
Roberts went overboard in a statement this week to The Athletic, saying the players already had made enough of a sacrifice to restart the season in late July.
Roberts was referring to fewer than half the league’s 30 teams when she stated: “These men lived in isolation for months. Each day could have been met with the news that this awful virus had invaded their space, and they were exposed to likely infection. They stayed the course, followed the protocol and, as a result, were able to deliver fabulous competition and completed the season able to crown a champion.”
The players protected a larger share of their contracts by doing so. It also should be noted, if the season starts Dec. 22, for 22 teams it will have been nearly four months since their last contest.
“Our players deserve the right to have some runway so that they can plan for a start that soon,’’ Roberts added. “The overwhelming response from the players that I have received to this proposal has been negative.”
Roberts has been a terrifically effective union president and negotiated favorable deals that boosted mid-level exceptions to $10 million per year for players deemed a little better than average.
It’s now her job to convince the union’s constituents to see the NBA’s side of the accounting ledger. Indications are the union may still approve a Dec. 22 start by next week, but work has to be done to get players to see the bigger picture. In their statement Friday, the union said, “Each of us has a stake in doing what’s fair, what’s best for our business. We are confident we will get there.”
The NBA hoped it would be taken care of Friday, but Roberts had warned: “I cannot and will not view Friday as a drop dead date.”
Yes, it’s going to be hectic if the union steps up. The draft is Nov. 18, and free agency probably will start Nov. 20. That’s a 10-day window for many departing free agents to scramble with their families to find a new home by Dec. 1. In truth, training camps will be a mess, with some players agreeing to deals in the midst of workouts.
It does the Knicks no favors. They have plenty of cap space and just seven players of their 15-man roster under contract for next season. The NBA likely will give teams three preseason games, fewer than normal, but better than the NFL’s zero this season.
This is the time for players, who had off from March to July, to get back quickly to playing the game they say they profess to love, in almost every interview.
As many of their die-hard fans struggle to pay rent during the first pandemic of modern times, starting Dec. 22 is not really a big deal.
The King from hardscrabble Akron, Ohio, should know that better than most.
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