We have officially reached the one-week mark without sports, and so far, it has been … boring. I appreciate what leagues are trying to do to keep fans engaged — the NBA made their League Pass subscription free so fans can dive into their archive of old games and MLB uploaded virtually every game ever to YouTube — but it’s just not the same as the real thing.
I’ve been watching tons of 30 for 30s, which is surprising given the fact that ESPN seemingly goes out of their way to make their content impossible to watch in Canada, but thanks to, um, “secondary sources” I’ve been able to watch my fair share.
Now logistically speaking, when this pandemic is over and the leagues resume play, it’s going to be very interesting to see what decisions the NBA and NHL come to regarding their respective seasons. I think Major League Baseball has it a bit easier in terms of scheduling; they could just shorten the season to 100ish games or so and have a normal postseason (assuming this is all cleared up by like June).
The NBA and NHL are in much tougher positions — I wouldn’t think either league would or should want to compromise future seasons in a hasty attempt to salvage this one. No one wants the 2020-21 season to be riddled with injuries because players had a one-month offseason, or a funky season where it starts around December; the ripple effect could last a long time if that happens.
I think the best case scenario would be to scrape together whatever is both possible and reasonable for the 2019-20 season in order to have a regular 2020-21 season. If that means making playoff series best-of-three instead of best-of-seven, so be it. Cancel the NBA Summer League? Maybe.
Both leagues are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to finishing off the 2019-20 season or not. Financials aside (which is a massive part of it, yes, but I’m speaking strictly for the history books), the NBA and NHL are kind of trapped either way; if they cancel the season entirely, then we have another ‘1994-absent’ like MLB had when their season ended in August due to a player strike. Nobody wants that — not only does it look bad in the record book but it’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re a team like the Bucks or Lakers who had a real shot at winning the championship. Same with all the players who suffered serious injuries this season, or were in reach of setting records. Still, I would think (and hope) that awards were still handed out; after all, 70 games is a big enough sample size to accurately give out hardware.
The other side to this is if, let’s say, the NBA and NHL returns in May, finishes the regular season in two weeks, then plays four best-of-three playoff series which will take us to the end of July. Will people take the champion seriously? Will people treat it like Barry Bonds’ records? The 2017 Astros title? Not in the sense it doesn’t count because they cheated — because that is the farthest thing from the truth — but in the sense that when somebody brings up Bonds’ 2001 season people say, “yeah but not really.” I think that stuff is really important in the long run. There have been short-season champs in the past that people don’t bastardize, like the 1999 Spurs and 2012 Heat, but there has never been something like this, where the season pauses and then resumes months later.
My point being, as silly as it sounds, assuming the NBA and NHL anoint a champion, will those teams be remembered and considered as ‘rightful champions’, for a lack of a better term? Or will folks say, “yeah Giannis has a ring but it was from that weird 2020 season where all the series were best-of-three and they had a three-month rest period,” yada yada yada. Again, assuming the playoffs happen and the trophy has been won, I would hope that whichever team wins it will be given respect, because at the end of the day, this is 100 percent out of everyone’s control and whatever team wins the title would still have had to successfully navigate the playoff structure that was presented to them.
We’re in uncharted waters, both in terms of sports and society as a whole, so nobody really knows what to do. It’s weird — because sports has long been viewed as an escape from the real world, but when the real world takes away the escape, what do we do?