The NBA is in talks with The Walt Disney Company on a single-site scenario for a resumption of play in Central Florida in late July, the clearest sign yet that the league believes the season can continue amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Basketball Players Association is also part of the talks with Disney. Games would be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, a massive campus on the Disney property near Orlando.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the conversations were still “exploratory,” and that the site would be used not only for games but for practices and housing as well.
“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and 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,” Bass said.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a 255-acre campus with multiple arenas that could host games simultaneously and has been home to, among other things, the Jr. NBA World Championship in recent years. ESPN is primarily owned by Disney, one of the NBA’s broadcast partners.
Space won’t be an issue, even if Major League Soccer — which is also in talks to resume its season at Disney — is there at the same time as the NBA. The entire Disney complex is roughly 40 square miles, with nearly 24,000 hotel rooms owned or operated by Disney within the campus.
The NBA suspended its season March 11, becoming the first of the U.S. major pro leagues to do so after it became known that All-Star center Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19. The list of NBA players who were known to test positive eventually grew to 10 — not all were identified — and Commissioner Adam Silver said last month that the actual total was even higher.
But the league has been working on countless return-to-play scenarios for several weeks, all with the caveat that testing would be an integral part of any resumption of the season. Teams have been allowed to welcome players back to their training facilities for voluntary sessions since May 8, and more than half of the league’s franchises have taken advantage of that opportunity.
The next steps would likely include a loosening of the restrictions for those voluntary workouts — no more than four players are currently allowed inside any facility at a time — and then a plan for when training camps could open. If the league plans to resume play in late July, then camps conceivably could open around the start of that month.
Jerry Sloan dies at 78
Jerry Sloan, who spent 23 years as coach of the Utah Jazz and took the team to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, died Friday at 78. The team said that for four years he had Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
Sloan presided over the glory days of the John Stockton and Karl Malone pick-and-roll-to-perfection era in Salt Lake City. He is fourth on the NBA’s victory list.
“Before coming to Utah, I was certainly aware of Coach Sloan and what he meant to the NBA and to the coaching world,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Friday. “But, upon living in Utah, I became acutely aware of just how much he truly meant to the state.”
Sloan was a two-time All-Star as a player with the Chicago Bulls, led his alma mater, Evansville, to a pair of NCAA college division national championships and was an assistant coach on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal at the Atlanta Games. He fell in love with the game as a student in a one-room Illinois schoolhouse, never forgetting his roots.
“His more than 40 years in the NBA also paralleled a period of tremendous growth in the league, a time when we benefited greatly from his humility, kindness, dignity and class,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.
Sloan often said numbers meant nothing to him. That’s a shame, because he has so many to marvel.
Sloan had 1,221 NBA coaching wins, behind only Lenny Wilkens, Don Nelson and Gregg Popovich. And Sloan’s 23 seasons with the Jazz are the second-longest string with one team in NBA history; Popovich is in his 24th season with the San Antonio Spurs.
Out of Sloan’s 23 seasons with the Jazz, the team finished below the .500 mark only once. He’s one of five coaches to roam the sidelines for at least 2,000 games, and the only one of those five with a winning percentage better than .600.