There’s a guy in a suit outside a tall building, and the wind is blowing his tie sideways. He’s wearing a hard hat for some reason and the windows of the building are all glowing red, and the guy is telling the assembled press that the situation is fluid. When he goes to finish his thought—but nobody should panic—the wind picks up and his words are barely audible beneath the static fssszzzhhh on various recording devices. We’re thinking about next steps. We’re exploring several options. And the wind gets stronger, and the windows glow more intensely. They’re a grid of crimson spotlights now.
Sobriety only goes so far in these situations, but considering that the president can’t get through a brief public statement without making several crucial mistakes that worsen the problem he’s kinda-sorta trying to solve, Adam Silver is handling the coronavirus outbreak pretty well. He should have emptied NBA arenas or even shut the league down a week ago, but it’s next to impossible to get a bunch of highly leveraged rich guys (plus Jeanie Buss) to agree on drastic preventative measures that would cost them money. They’ve got to be able to see the advancing troops from the sunrooms of their eight million dollar homes, or the war effectively doesn’t exist. What’s already necessary must become dire.
So in that sense we can thank Rudy Gobert for being a macho dumbass who couldn’t possibly get sick, who apparently picks up dimes off the street and swishes them around his mouth, such is the robustness of his immune system. After touching a bunch of media members’ stuff a few days ago as a show of strength, The Stifle Tower was struck with the sniffles and now Silver has cleared the warehouse. Donovan Mitchell has come down with the new plague too. So we’re out of basketball games, for the foreseeable future. Suspending the action is the prudent thing to do. La Liga and Serie A have made the same choice; big-time college programs are pulling themselves out of the NCAA tournament because leadership is too cowardly to cancel the damn thing. It seems like we’re on the brink of the entire sporting world taking a bit of a break.
Howard Beck is reporting that the NBA doesn’t think the season is over. They’re going to pause the operation for at least a few weeks, see what happens, and hope to pick up again sometime in April, either skipping over the missed regular season games and jumping right into the playoffs or moving the entire slate of games back. The former option is considerably saner—hardly anyone cares about this stretch of the calendar in the first place—but if the owners are immensely concerned about making up lost revenue, there are logistical problems to pushing the season into July, but even the Staples Center isn’t so booked up with WNBA games and concerts that something couldn’t be worked out in the case of a Clippers-Lakers series.
It’s much better to create an accounting mess for later rather than exacerbate the mortal one that’s currently evolving. We don’t have to injure our wrists thanking Adam Silver for his peerless leadership, but considering he’s up against sentiment from owners like Tilman Fertitta—actual quote from the discount seafood restaurant magnate: “there’s no reason to panic even when they announce that 10,000 people have it, okay? Just don’t give it to other people”—it’s worth giving him at least a little bit of credit for understanding that in the face of a global pandemic, Thursday night’s scheduled Nets-Warriors tussle can wait, or maybe doesn’t need to happen at all.
It would be comforting to say that basketball is going to take a hiatus and we’ll all recenter what’s important, but that’s not really what’s going to occur. It’s not like you and I are going to devote the time we would’ve used watching James Harden launch stepbacks into researching a vaccine. We’re simply going to waste our evening hours on some other unproductive pursuit. That’s fine; we need to unwind.
What is fleetingly comforting about the NBA shutting down, especially in a moment when so many aspects of the culture feel profoundly out of whack—this virus will peter out, but the discourse will not stop getting dumber and the literal seas will not stop rising—is the reality that in the face of a crisis, gigantic corporations with urgent short-term interests in doing otherwise can do the sensible thing. Not out of inherent goodness or generosity but by realizing that the whole of human history does not come to a conclusion at the end of each financial year. It’s possible to take measures that look beyond what might happen this week to what might happen months or years down the road. And to, in the process, help society in some small way. That’s such an aggravatingly obvious thing, but we have to take what we can get in late capitalism. The NBA’s actions represent what should be the bare minimum. Sadly, by our present standards, it appears they’ve gone above and beyond.