Yet it is also hard to miss how much the concern volume has dropped compared with the spring. Maybe it’s a false sense of security that stems from how successful the N.B.A. bubble was — or simple concern fatigue now that we’ve all had this virus in our lives for eight months. I may regret admitting this aloud, but I, too, am not the relentless fretter on these issues that I used to be. There has been far more noise in recent weeks about how short the turnaround will be for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat than the daunting prospect of keeping the virus out of their camps, and I have been as wrapped up in the compact nature of the shortest off-season in league history as anyone.
Perhaps the best explanation is that the sporting landscape has changed so significantly since March, when the N.B.A. was the first league of prominence to institute a shutdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Sports organizations at all levels followed the N.B.A.’s lead and thrust Commissioner Adam Silver into the role of standard-setter. The N.B.A. was expected, from that point, to engineer the safest solution on the planet to resuming operations in the middle of a pandemic. At an estimated cost of $190 million to erect a restricted-access bubble at Disney World, Silver & Co. did just that.
But that was then. Look at what’s happening in sports now. The virus appears to be a greater threat as winter nears, just as many experts warned it would, but the N.F.L. reports new Covid-19 cases as coldly as any other ailment on the injury report. The Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo, at worst the second-best soccer player in the world, tested positive for the coronavirus without much fuss. Clemson took Notre Dame to two overtimes, in a contender for college football’s Game of the Season, even after the Tigers’ star quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, was sidelined by the virus. Notre Dame’s fans recklessly stormed the field in triumph, as university officials knew they would, even after the indefensible celebration scenes that followed the Los Angeles Dodgers’ World Series triumph.
No one in sports is waiting around to use the N.B.A. as a compass anymore. Leagues are trying instead to revamp their standard operating procedures to find a passable balance between risk-taking and economic necessity, thereby keeping the lights on and sustaining themselves financially in these coronavirus times. It is also folly to expect the N.B.A. not to join in.
This is what businesses will always try to do. They adapt or perish. The optics are going to get seriously squishy if the N.B.A. is confronted with its first widespread outbreak, or if it creates any added burden to public health care systems already under strain, but it deserves the same basic latitude to try to play without the aid of a high-priced bubble as any other professional league.
Such is the esteem for the way the N.B.A. is run that it was widely assumed that the Justin Turner situation never would have happened on Silver’s watch. Removing the Dodgers’ third baseman in the eighth inning after a coronavirus test came back negative, but allowing him to return, mostly maskless, for the team’s championship celebration because, well, Turner felt he belonged out there with his teammates? Not on hardwood, pal.
Yet basketball’s nature is also such that Silver will surely soon be seeing coronavirus curveballs that his M.L.B. counterpart, Rob Manfred, and the N.F.L.’s Roger Goodell would probably never face.