As the NBA gears up to restart its season on July 30, the league will be able to look at the Chinese Basketball Association as a test case for professional sports ramping back up. The CBA, which has been on hiatus since late January, finally resumed play with 20 teams taking the court on Saturday.
Originally, the CBA attempted to resume games in May. However, the Chinese government ordered it to delay the season even further over fear of the COVID-19 virus spreading again. With positive cases far below what they were when the virus first broke out in the city of Wuhan, the league finally got the green light to resume the season, which will see teams split into two divisions and with no fans in attendance.
In order to limit the spread of the virus, the league decided to cut down on the number of foreign players who would participate in the remainder of the season, and the number of venues has been reduced to minimize travel. In an open letter written to the players of the league, current CBA president and basketball Hall of Famer Yao Ming thanked everyone involved who helped get the CBA back on the court.
"Everything you have experienced this season will surely write a strong stroke in the history of the CBA league, and the history will also bear in mind the hardship, dedication and contribution of each of us," Yao wrote. "As the first national large-scale sports event to be restarted in China, the CBA rematch has a strategic significance for comprehensively promoting the resumption of production and restoring life, and its social impact has exceeded the basketball itself."
Jeremy Lin, who is a member of the Beijing Ducks, took to Instagram to celebrate the restart of the CBA season, while also addressing how difficult it is to play while so many people are still being affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Restarting the CBA season today, but this time it feels so different," Lin wrote in the caption. "The return of games means more than just hoops. It represents us as humanity fighting to take our next steps post-COVID. On the other hand, I step onto the court with a heavy, heavy heart. I know there are so many people hurting, so many sick, so much injustice. It almost doesn't seem right that I get to hoop."
Lin went on further to talk about the recent protests that have happened not just in the United States, but across the globe in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
"But I also know what the game stands for -- people who unite to enjoy competition regardless of age, skin color or beliefs," Lin wrote. "Basketball at its best is a game of teamwork, equality and love. I'm still learning, listening and thinking about how I can be a better ally. In the meantime, hope our games can bring some light to the world."
In his first game back, Lin dropped 13 points and seven rebounds in a 91-82 win for the Ducks.
While the CBA's restart is a positive sign for China, Beijing did recently see a spike in cases last week. Several communities in the capital went back on lockdown, after 106 cases were reported last Tuesday. The latest outbreak was linked to Asia's biggest food market, which supplies up to 80 percent of Beijing's meat and vegetables.
Even as China sees a slight uptick in cases, though, that number is nowhere near what the country was experiencing just a few months ago. However, Yao has warned the players and teams in the CBA to be cautious as the season continues on.
"The epidemic is not over yet, we have to arrange for everyone to live, train and compete under relatively closed conditions," Yao said. "Neither the empty court nor the tournament system is a rhythm we are familiar with, but the long-lost game is in front of us."