While we saw plenty of NBA games without fans this summer in the Orlando bubble, the intimate environment the league created down in Disney World made it easy to forget at times that they weren't there. With preseason games now underway in empty home arenas, it's no longer possible to suspend that disbelief.
The cavernous buildings that used to hold upwards of 20,000 people are now home to just a few dozen players, coaches and essential workers. It's an eerie sight, and something everyone will have to get used to as the league begins this season in the midst of a still-raging coronavirus pandemic that has now killed over 300,000 Americans, and millions more across the globe.
But as dark as things are right now, there is some hope on the horizon. The first trucks carrying the COVID-19 vaccine hit the road in the United States Sunday, with distribution starting as early as Monday. While the clear main objective is to protect everyone in the country from getting sick, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says it will help the NBA as well, with fans being able to return to arenas by the spring.
Cuban's full comments:
I'm so ready for basketball again, I'm so ready for us to get some normalcy, and let me say this. I'm a big believer in the vaccine, I'm a geeky guy who does a lot of the research on this stuff, and my personal belief is that by March, April at the latest, we're gonna have a huge snapback where most of the people are gonna have had access to it if they wanted it, and many will have taken it. And people are gonna be going nuts just to go outside, go to games, scream and yell and not worry about it, and have fun.
I think those last couple months of the NBA season are going to be incredible. Where people are going nuts at games, fans are going to sports bars to watch games, every game becomes an event. It's just gonna be really, really exciting. If we can just keep everybody healthy, or as healthy as we possibly can, get us into March and April, things are going to get really fun.
It would be incredible if this comes to pass, and everyone is rooting for things to get back to normal as soon as possible. But there's a long way to go before that happens, and right now it's hard to feel super optimistic given the state of the pandemic. Case numbers now are much worse than they were back in March when the league initially suspended play, and even with the vaccine being rolled out, that won't change in the immediate future.
Again, hopefully Cuban is correct, but it might be worth checking back in on this situation in late January or early February rather than getting ahead of ourselves here. Once the vaccine has been widely distributed, we'll have a much better idea of how it will change things.