ORLANDO, Fla. — With over 350 players on 22 teams gathered in one city and at one theme park that’s been magically transformed into one basketball ecosystem, everyone’s asking one question today:
How did we get here?
The orange basketball has taken its share of strange bounces throughout the 74-season history of the NBA, none loopier than the series of ricochets that began last fall and will continue into this fall. The crowning of the next NBA champion, therefore, will elicit a pair of celebrations — one of joy for the victors, one of relief for the league’s improbable journey.
The restart of the 2019-20 season, which endured a four-month pause caused by coronavirus, will officially launch Thursday evening inside a pair of small gyms at Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Normally occupied by youth sports teams that flock to Disney in summertime, they’ve been tricked out to specifically meet the new requirements for a new world and what the NBA is marketing as a Whole New Game.
And so, sometime in early October, the Larry O’Brien Trophy will be hoisted in a place without fans, little fanfare and by players who’ll be excused for violating the social distance rule in order to give each other much-needed hugs.
“I’m excited about giving the world something to be excited about,” Rockets star James Harden said. “Just some joy and something to look forward to.”
If the end-game seems complicated, the starting line was rather mundane back in late September, shortly after training camps started.
‘A difficult year’
Amazingly, what passed for “news” then was a short-lived rap feud between Blazers star Damian Lillard and retired Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. Imagine if the only wreckage in the 2019-20 season was confined to lyrics and a diss track.
Instead, drama and headlines only intensified from there. The league found itself in a social bind when Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong while his team and others toured China for exhibition games. Because the NBA and a handful of stars have business ties with China, commissioner Adam Silver had to stomp brush fires while also toeing the line for free speech, which is encouraged within the NBA. Silver later admitted the entire episode cost the NBA hundreds of millions in revenue and placed future China trips and business dealings in jeopardy.
And that was only the start of a big money drip.
When the season began, it did so without a precocious and much-celebrated No. 1 draft pick. Zion Williamson had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and skipped the first three months, denying the NBA and its TV partners a rookie whose sizzle didn’t arrive until he made his debut in mid-January, better late than never.
Other injuries combined to thwart a fully functional league: Stephen Curry, Paul George, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin and also Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, both done for the season following surgery last summer.
MORE ON THIS STORY:https://www.nba.com/article/2020/07/30/nba-restart-2019-20