Pretty much everyone wants to know when the Los Angeles Lakers — and the rest of the NBA — will resume the season that was suspended nearly three months ago due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. Some people want to know so much, in fact, that they’re going up to Rajon Rondo while he makes socially distanced supply deliveries in his hometown and asking him.
Rondo described those encounters in a recent interview with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:
“The first question was always, ‘When is the NBA season going to come back?’ ” Rondo told The Undefeated. “I got a lot of those. I told them, ‘I will know the same time you find out.’ ”
The league does seem to be getting closer and closer to a return, even if it’s not a certainty yet. From negotiating with Disney to restart things at Disney World, to NBPA executive director Michele Roberts saying that most players want to finish things, it seems more and more likely that the NBA will be officially announcing that the 2019-20 season will resume in a matter of days or weeks.
One thing that Rondo noted about a possible return while speaking to Spears was interesting, and shined a light on the robe-clad, scythe-brandishing elephant in the room that too often goes unacknowledged while discussing the NBA’s efforts to resume the season.
While the risks for coaches and other staffers (many of whom are older and definitively in at-risk groups for the coronavirus) in heading to this type of group setting has mostly not been spoken about much, much of the discourse about players has focused on the reality that they’re young and healthy, and that catching the virus in all likelihood poses very little risk to most of them based on what we know at this point.
But all it takes is one player, coach or staffer who can’t for tragedy to strike the NBA’s efforts to resume the season, something Rondo pointed out (emphasis mine):
“I want to play. As a competitor, you want to play,” Rondo said. But he also wants to protect his family and the people around him. “Safety first, understanding that life. We can’t take it for granted, even though we are athletes who are some of the best people in shape as far as body and heart condition. But all it takes is one case where a body can’t fight off the virus.”
That’s something the NBA will have to reckon with should the worst-case scenario of the virus invading the bubble the NBA is attempting to form come to pass, and why Lakers veteran Jared Dudley’s recent comments about the bubble not exactly being a true bubble are reason for some level of concern about how safe the NBA’s attempts at a return will actually be.
Will the league be able to stomach someone dying in order to attempt to finish something as nonessential as a sports season? How much would it damage the perception of the league if that were to happen? How many lives is an NBA season worth? These (and many others) are the previously unthinkable questions that the NBA and its players will have to weigh over the coming weeks, with millions — and possibly billions — of dollars on the line. It’s a thin tightrope to walk, and these decisions aren’t easy to make, but Rondo is right to point out that safety is far from a guarantee with something like a pandemic.
All it will take is one wrong turn for the celebration that sports are back to turn into tragedy. Whatever it ultimately decides, the league needs to do everything possible to stop the worst from happening, or it will deserve whatever public blame it has to shoulder if any carelessness or relaxed rules lead to preventable deaths.