In the midst of unpredictable times, former Torero basketball player and assistant coach David Fizdale can usually count on being asked one question.
“Anytime I go out I could have my mask on... I'm standing in line doing my social distancing... for some reason somebody will recognize the glasses over the mask and they'll say, ‘coach are we having basketball this summer? We need our games.’”
“They really need that lift that sports give them, and especially what the NBA gives them,” Fizdale said.
That's been absent since March 11th, the night that the Jazz and Thunder were told to leave the court after Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver suspended the season. A day later the rest of the sports world shut down.
More than two months later the NBA is working towards a safe return. The league has allowed teams to open facilities for voluntary individual workouts - with no coaches and no more than four players present at a time. According to New York Times NBA reporter Marc Stein, 17 of the league’s 30 teams had taken the league up on its offer as of Monday.
“It's the first step to the process of coming back,” Fizdale explained,
That process will require many more steps, and answers to a number of questions. For instance, how much time will players need to get back in playing shape? The former Knicks and Grizzlies head coach thinks the NBA should give teams three weeks for players to get game ready.
“They got to get on the court. They got to start hitting. They got to start running up and down. They got to start playing through situations,” Fizdale said. “Doing a lot of things that the real games are going to entail.”
What is also uncertain is how many games they will play before launching into the postseason. In fact, there is the question of whether teams outside of the playoff picture should return at all. Fizdale thinks it might be beneficial to limit the remainder of the season to the teams that still have a shot at the postseason.
“Is it worth risking the employees that you need to show up to the games to make a game function? Is it worth the players health? The coaches’ health? The trainers’ health?”
In an effort to limit the number of people involved and their exposure to others, the league is also reportedly considering sending teams to one or two locations – specifically Disney World Resort in Orlando, and Las Vegas. If players operated in a ‘bubble’ on one of those host cities, the question is whether or not their family members will be able to join them
“To be away from my family and not being able to interact face-to-face with them every day would be difficult.”
Regardless of where games take place, there's no question they'll look different. Fizdale says playing without fans is a no-brainer. While that would take away from the in-arena fan experience, and the typical environment of games, he does think the circumstances could add a new layer of entertainment value for those watching from home.
“Now you're gonna hear everything,” Fizdale said. “You're gonna hear dialogue between people. You're gonna hear a lot of vulgarities.”
He even thinks the league will have to find ways to engage fans during games, like putting more microphones on players or including them in in-game interviews.
There's a lot that will need to be figured out, but Fizdale says that with next season already likely to start late - there's time to put together a plan.
“It's just better to be cautious right now. Err on the side of caution, and just really slow walk it step-by-step to get these guys back on the court.”
He believes in the leadership of Silver, and his ability to put together a safe plan for the league’s return.
“I do believe that they will come up with a solution that gets basketball back on the court for us this summer, and it'll be a nice jump to the system for everybody.”