With Orlando Emerging as Front-Runner for NBA Return, Questions Linger

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Epa/Rolex Dela Pena

At the gate entrance to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, an overhanging arch reads the following phrase:


 “Where Dreams Come True.” 


While Disney World symbolizes childhood and famous cartoons, it soon can be the site for an NBA fan’s dream to come true. 


What is that dream? The return to basketball. 


On Tuesday May 19, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that Orlando/Disney World has “emerged as a clear frontrunner for return-to-play site for resuming the 2019-20 season.” Whether the entire league is playing in Orlando or select games remains to be seen, as per Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. But the fact certain “hub” cities like Orlando are gaining traction points to the NBA returning in the not too distant future. 



Is it encouraging that the NBA’s return may be on the horizon? Absolutely. Is it the right move to have it in Orlando? It’s hard to say. 


At the government level, Florida supports professional sports in the state. 


“All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference on May 13th. “What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, 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.”



With three UFC events happening over a week in Jacksonville, as well as the “TaylorMade Driving Relief” charity golf tournament and The Match 2.0 last Sunday, having the NBA return in Florida would receive political support. 


The NBA’s steps towards return are slow and gradual. This is a pragmatic approach, considering the lack of knowledge surrounding the coronavirus. With the NBA giving the go-ahead for teams to reopen their practice facilities for limited, individual workouts, it signaled that health and safety were at the forefront of their decision-making. 


“There is no appetite to compromise the well-being of our players,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on a conference call on April 17th. “The safety, health, and well-being of our players, coaches, fans, everyone involved in our game, is paramount.”


16 NBA franchises, including the Toronto Raptors, have opened their practice facilities for voluntary workouts. In the Raptors case, it’s been limited to one coach and one player on the court. These baby steps increase the chances for full practices to take place in the coming weeks. According to Zach Lowe of ESPNthe NBA will be releasing guidelines to invite players back to their facilities, beginning the process of a full ramp-up to the season. 


Even with no fans, having live NBA basketball is an important step back to normality. Many of the league’s top players, including LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kawhi Leonard, desire to finish the 2019-20 season. It gives a chance for the Toronto Raptors, one of the most compelling stories this year, to defend their NBA championship. 


While there is player support, many hurdles need to be overcome. The first obstacle is testing. If basketball is to return, players need to be fully healthy and feel safe while on the court. Mass testing achieves this reality. 



The second consideration is what happens if a player tests positive for the virus. Before the Bundesliga resumed, there were ten positive tests. In the English Premier League, six players or coaches tested positive for COVID-19. Given that the NBA was the first league to suspend its operations due to Rudy Gobert testing positive last March, it needs to be prudent in its approach in dealing with potential subsequent cases of the virus among its players and personnel. 


The final concern is Florida itself. Is Orlando the safest jurisdiction to house the NBA? According to the number of state COVID-19 cases, Florida ranks ninth (46,944). Nevada, where Las Vegas is located, ranks 36th. While there are a number of factors that will determine whether a city gets to host NBA games, approval from local public health officials is critical. 


In the classic Disney song, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” one of the lyrics reads: “anything your heart desires will come to you.” 


For NBA fans who yearn a return to their sport, they need to embrace the new normal.


Which means guidelines that adhere to health and safety. 

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