The National Basketball Association is resuming its season Thursday, 20 weeks after suspending play when a player tested positive for the coronavirus.
The regular season was nearing its end at the time of the shutdown, so the league is finishing with an eight-game schedule for 22 teams that have either already qualified for the playoffs or have a chance to do so.
All games are being played at three arenas at the Disney complex in Orlando, Florida, where players and staff have been living for several weeks.
The league employing a “bubble” strategy with no travel, mandatory quarantines for anyone who leaves the site, no unauthorized visitors and no fans in order to try to prevent coronavirus infections.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he is anxious about the league’s return, but that everyone on the campus is being tested daily and that officials are ready to act if cases emerge.
“Probably if we had any significant spread at all, we'd immediately stop and one thing we'd do is try to track those cases to determine where they're coming from and whether there had been spread on the campus,” Silver said Wednesday. “I would say, ultimately, we would cease completely if we thought that this was spreading around the campus and something more than an isolated case was happening."
A league statement Wednesday said there were no confirmed positive tests among 344 players who were tested since July 20.
Thursday’s first game is between the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz, with a second matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.
Of those four teams, only the Pelicans have yet to clinch a playoff spot.
The playoffs begin August 17, and will conclude with the final round in October.
Across the state in Bradenton, Florida, the Women’s National Basketball Association began its season last week in its own bubble with similar rules and no fans at its games. The league typically starts in late May or early June, and this year will begin its playoffs in September.
Saturday brings the beginning of the National Hockey League season, employing a similar bubble strategy using two Canadian cities – Toronto and Edmonton – to host players and games for 24 teams. The league announced Monday it also had no positive coronavirus tests during the past week.
Major League Baseball began its season last week. It is not using a bubble but rather relying on limiting team travel to geographic regions to try to minimize risks. But already there have been setbacks, with multiple games postponed after members of the Miami Marlins tested positive.