When the NBA suspended its season on March 11, it left fans pondering what a return to the sport would look like.
Answer: nobody knows.
But when the Toronto Raptors announced last Friday the reopening of their practice facility, the OVO Athletic Centre, starting May 11th for limited player access, it was the first sign that a restart is possible.
If the Raptors are going to defend their NBA Championship, even in a truncated fashion, players returning to the court is the first step toward that reality.
“I think this goes back to the start of when this all began in mid-March,” said Raptors general manager Bobby Webster via The Athletic. “I think we’ve all tried to be as thoughtful and thorough as we can with every decision that we’ve made.”
The Raptors indicated in a press release that only one player and one coach will be on the court at a time. Players and coaches will be wearing personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves. They will have temperature and symptom checks before entering the practice facility.
These guidelines are consistent with the NBA’s memo on April 27th, allowing individual workouts in cities where government restrictions are relaxed.
According to Webster, the Raptors collaborated with public health officials, relying on their guidance in making this decision.
Working closely with local government, infectious disease experts and public health authorities, we'll be facilitating limited access to OVO Athletic Centre for player workouts in line with league guidance.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 8, 2020
“We’ve been talking daily with our doctors and specialists in this area and I think for the time being, everyone feels comfortable with where we came out,” Webster said via The Athletic. “This is why we erred on the conservative side of saying let’s have one player in the gym at a time, because I do think we’re all going to learn things next week, and things may have to change.”
There will always be a question about timing. It’s not just NBA teams deciding when to reopen their practice facilities. Businesses in North America are calculating whether the benefit of reopening outweighs the cost of employees potentially contracting COVID-19.
What is optimistic about the Raptors decision, however, is they are implementing modifications to the NBA’s guidelines to enhance safety. For example, while the NBA suggests “no more than four players” on a practice court at a time, the Raptors are reducing that number to one player. The Raptors are prohibiting media, public, and general staff from accessing the facility. Extensive cleaning of the spaces will take place.
“If we can figure out a way to play these games with low risk, what a boost that would give to people,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse on Sportsnet’s The Conversation with Ron MacLean.
There is only so much that a player and coach can do on a practice court.
These baby steps, while providing players a chance to train, also serve as a boost in morale, given the length of basketball’s absence.
The actions of the Raptors and other organizations can create a roadmap for a potential return of the NBA in the safest way possible.