by Julian Spivey & Preston Tolliver
First Quarter: Should the NBA Even Be Resuming the Season?
I’m looking forward to basketball returning on July 30. I’ve marked my internal calendar and am prepping my stomach and liver for the celebratory beer and nachos that I’ll gorge myself on when I watch the Pelicans and the Jazz and the Lakers and the Clippers take the court on Thursday on TNT.
Our country, and our country’s leadership, has bungled its response to the pandemic worse than J.R. Smith bungled Game 1 of the 2018 Finals. We are far from normal, nor are we close to coming out of the woods on this virus - and while a sense of normalcy would be great, the fact is that it will be used as an excuse for more normal operations, which will undoubtedly put more people at harm. There’s a lot more to say on this topic - about our failed leadership, how politics and profits have somehow superseded health and medicine - but for now, we’ll leave it at this: no, the season should not resume. PT
Having had many text conversations with Preston since the NBA shutdown in March due to COVID-19 I’ve always been more optimistic about the NBA returning and completing its season than he has. I just hate the idea of something that was almost finished not going incomplete – especially when these athletes have worked so hard toward a championship.
If I felt it was truly unsafe to continue the NBA season, I’d be right there with Preston in saying the NBA season should not be resuming tonight. I didn’t believe Major League Baseball should’ve attempted a season and here after just three games we have an entire franchise with half its time testing positive for the virus. I also don’t believe the NFL, which is also not doing a bubble scenario, should risk it. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, who’s been the leading voice on the pandemic in this country even though our presidential administration has tried to shut him up or make him look bad, has said he believes a bubble scenario could work for sports. I’ll take Fauci’s word on it, he is the expert after all.
And the bubble does seem to be working. The league announced on July 20 that in the first week of testing that 346 players had been tested and not a single one tested positive for the virus. That’s amazing. I haven’t seen numbers published in the week and a half since then, but that would seem to suggest things are going well with the bubble. JS
Second Quarter: Who's Going to Win the Championship? Will There Be a Asterisk?
I’ll address the asterisk part first.
In most cases I don’t think the 2019-2020 NBA season champion should have a metaphorical asterisk despite the lengthy delay to the season due to COVID-19 and the bubble aspect of its resumption. In some ways winning the championship in this upcoming postseason may produce one of the hardest fought champions ever due to the layoff. I still believe you’re going to see a team win the title that likely would’ve won it anyway like the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors, etc.
The only way I’d really consider putting an asterisk on the champion this season is if the league ends up with a really surprising champion like any team currently outside of the top eight in each conference who might wind up in the postseason during the eight-game season resumption and get on a hot streak and do the unthinkable.
My NBA Finals prediction is honestly the same right now as it would’ve been in March on the day the NBA halted play – Lakers vs. Bucks. These two teams have been the class of their respective conferences all season and I don’t think the hiatus and bubble are going to change that. The Bucks being a younger team may have a bit of an advantage with the layoff and getting warmed up quicker, but my champion pick for the 2020 NBA Finals is the Lakers and LeBron James being crowned champion with his third different franchise. JS
It’s impossible right now to predict if this season can even survive again to the point of the playoffs, much less what players will be healthy enough to play, or who will and won’t have to leave and re-quarantine due to family emergencies. Gun to my head, I would say the Bucks, but we’re in uncharted territory, and this is literally anyone’s ball game.
If the question is whether or not the championship is cheapened due to the virus, no, not at all. The Raptors’ championship doesn’t have an asterisk because they faced the Golden State Warriors’ version of the Monty Python Black Knight.
But this season should be noted in history, because 2020 is a historic year. The league and its players are having to do what no one has had to do before them, in a world that is entirely different from the world six months ago. There are different - and perhaps more challenging - circumstances this year. If anything, this year’s champion should get a few extra bragging rights. PT
Third Quarter: What Do You Think of Players Opting Out of NBA's Resumption?
2020 has presented the world - and America - with a multitude of challenges and opportunities, and everyone has the right to choose how to tread those waters.
The obvious and infectious elephant in the room being the coronavirus: if a player doesn’t feel safe playing, if they have family who is immunocompromised, or if they simply don’t want to have to live alone in a hotel for three months, those are all valid reasons to not enter the bubble.
The first half of 2020 has also opened the door for much-needed conversations around race, police brutality, and equity in the United States. We saw earlier this month what can happen when a star athlete uses their platform for change, when Jonathan Irons was released from prison, almost halfway through a 50-year sentence, thanks in large part to Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore’s decision to sit out last season to focus on getting his conviction overturned. We’ve also seen a number of athletes announce projects to address voter suppression among minority populations - an issue that, in an election year in which protesters have filled streets in major cities across the country to combat police brutality, is just as important as ever.
If an athlete feels this is their time to stand up for social justice, then more power to them: I’ll cheer them on just as I would if they were on the basketball court. PT
It is up to each individual to decide what’s best for them and their health. If players are concerned about their health and safety and the health and safety of their family due to COVID-19 I can’t blame them for not wanting to resume the season. Even with the bubble and the lack of positive COVID-19 tests I’m not sure I’d want to head to Orlando to play basketball in August through October unless I felt my team had a really good chance at winning the title – meaning I’d be much more likely to want to go if I were on the Lakers than the Wizards, Nets or Spurs. Also, some of the players – like Trevor Ariza (pictured) of the Portland Trail Blazers – opted out because the typical NBA offseason months are their only time they can spend with their children and that’s admirable.
When it comes to social justice issues it’s admirable for players to want to do all they can to help out, but I do take the stance that athletes can likely do more for the issues by playing and making sure their opinions on the situation are heard. That’s going to be easier to do when the media is covering you than if it’s not.
Through all of the players opting out the only one that really bugged me was Davis Bertans of the Washington Wizards because he didn’t do it because of COVID-19 or because of social justice issues. He simply opted out because he’s going to be a free agent and doesn’t want to risk injury, which admittedly he does have a past of, and cost himself money. The Wizards supported Bertans decision, and the team is unlikely to qualify for the postseason anyway, but that reason seems a bit more selfish than any of the other reasonings players have given for opting out of the NBA’s return. JS
Fourth Quarter: Who Should Win NBA's MVP?
To be honest, the first six months of the 2019-2020 season feel like they were six years ago, and my memory of anything pre-COVID is mush. Can we just do what Time Magazine did with its Person of the Year Award in 2006 and give it to everyone? Maybe make the MVP trophy a mirror or something? After this year, I think everyone deserves it. PT
Well, Preston that was a cop out answer if I’ve ever seen one.
No offense meant toward James Harden, who led the league in scoring again this season and did so by almost four points, but most experts seem to feel it’s a two-man fight for MVP between Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, last year’s winner, and four-time winner LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers. Each player has led their respective team to a sizeable lead in their respective conference. Antetokounmpo is third in the league in scoring, where as James is 11th. James is the league leader in assists per game with 10.6 (more than a full assist ahead of the next guy), which I find very impressive as he’s truly become a great facilitator. Then you have Antetokounmpo also at third in the league in rebounding with 13.7 per game. In baseball there’s a statistic called WAR (wins above replacement) that is essentially dedicated to deciding the best player in the game. Basketball’s version of this is PER (Player Efficiency Rating), which is something I hadn’t paid too much attention to until recently, but Antetokounmpo is the best in the game according to PER, with James coming in at ninth overall. If I had an MVP vote I’d be writing in Antetokounmpo for the second straight year.
And that Preston is how you discuss an MVP award. JS