The NBA season has followed roughly the same schedule for the league's entire existence. Broadly speaking, the season starts in the fall, usually in October or November, and ends in the late spring or early summer, stretching from April in the league's earlier days into June now. The only things to seriously impact that calendar, prior to this season, were labor disputes. Non-lockout seasons tend to play out like clockwork.
But the coronavirus is challenging that notion. Given the league's desperation to finish this season and the increasing inevitability that doing so will mean playing late into this summer, next season's schedule is likely to be thrown out of whack. Players need an offseason, and giving them one means delaying the start of next season as late as possibly Christmas Day.
And Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is just fine with that. During an appearance on ESPN's Get Up, he explained that he's wanted to make that change for years, but that the league's television partners would never relent. While the circumstances are hardly ideal, the season's current delay gives the league the chance to experiment with that format.
"Honestly, it's been something that I've been asking for for more than 10 years. I've always thought that we should start on Christmas and go into the summer, but the response has always been that our television partners don't want that because there are fewer households using television during the summer months. But everything is different right now. Particularly if we continue to be quarantined, then people are at home willing to watch the games. Nothing else is on other than SharkTank and SportsCenter and you guys, of course. But I think it really could be a great experiment for us, and if it works out well, then we could do it."
Left unsaid is the advantage such a schedule poses in the NBA's battle with the nation's most popular sport: football. Starting the season in December virtually eliminates any competition with college football and destroys most of the overlap between the NBA and NFL regular seasons. Instead, the NBA would be competing with Major League Baseball over the summer, a seemingly easier battle to win.
But trying this schedule in the first place requires a clarity that the league simply doesn't have right now. While Cuban had previouslywhen it came to a return date for the NBA, he now simply doesn't know when bringing basketball back would be possible.
"I have no idea. The only thing I know is that we're putting safety first and that we're not gonna take any chances, we're not gonna do anything that risks the health or safety of our players, our fans, our staff, our whole organizations, so right now, I really don't have anything new to say."
"All the experts have got to say, 'it'll be absolutely safe,' we cannot put anything ahead of the health and safety of our players and staff, that's it, and it's such a moving target, and nobody really has specifics. I haven't had any conversations where anybody's even discussed an actual date at this point."
For the time being, the NBA is on hold. The entire situation is unprecedented, and that will inevitably lead to changes when the league eventually does return. The league we next see is going to be different from the one we've grown used to for the better part of the past century.