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NBA commissioner talks about decision to continue new season without the bubble

Adam Silver explained why the league is starting a new season away from its COVID-19 bubble in Florida despite record numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
/ Source: TODAY

As the NBA gets set to kick off a shortened, 72-game season Tuesday night, commissioner Adam Silver explained why the league is restarting away from its bubble in Florida while the country continues to have record-setting numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Silver spoke with Craig Melvin on TODAY Tuesday about the league's plan to keep players and personnel safe during the pandemic and why it decided to stop random testing for marijuana this season.

The NBA was lauded for its commitment to player safety when it completed last season with zero reported COVID-19 cases after assembling all the playoff teams in one place in a bubble in Orlando. The league also was the first major sports league to shut down immediately after the pandemic began in March when a player tested positive.

However, this season will take place with teams playing in their home arenas and traveling, which could become a major logistical challenge if players start testing positive in large numbers.

"There's been a great deal of debate about restarting the NBA season. Why now?" Craig asked.

"In a weird way it's almost why not?" Silver said. "I think at the end of the day, it was like so many other industries where we want to work. By following the protocols that we know have been effective, we can do things in a safe and responsible way, and I'm not ashamed to say we're balancing the economic factors as well, and not just for the players in this league but for the literally tens of thousands of jobs that are dependent on the NBA."

He noted that though the bubble was successful in keeping players and staff safe from the virus, it "had a real impact on many of the participants in terms of their families, their mental wellness."

"It's not easy being cooped up for months," he said.

This season, the league plans to test players, coaches and staff at least once a day, sometimes twice. If a single player tests positive, he will go into "quarantine of some sort," according to Silver.

"If 'outbreak' means we have a spread to a full team, we may have to pause the season again," Silver said.

The NBA drew criticism in March when its players were able to regularly get COVID-19 tests before they were available to most of the public, but that won't be the case when it comes to receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna coronavirus vaccines that have recently received government approval. The vaccines are currently being given to front-line health care workers, nursing home residents and other high-risk individuals.

"The vaccine protocols are wholly different," Silver said. "I mean that's controlled 100% by the government, there is no way that we would ever jump the line."

The NBA may have some players publicly get vaccinated to show its safety and efficacy to the public, particularly the Black community.

"We are well aware that within the African American community there is a group who are skeptical, who are hesitant to get the vaccine," Silver said. "I think that to the extent that they see people like them who are out getting the vaccine, I think that creates trust."

The league also announced earlier this month that it would stop random testing for marijuana this season. Silver said "it's possible" the policy could become permanent beyond this season.

"We decided that given all the things that were happening in society, given all the pressures and stress that players were under, that we didn't need to act as Big Brother right now," Silver said. "I think society's views around marijuana has changed to a certain extent.

"It doesn't mean that we're not going to be talking to players who maybe aren't using marijuana casually, but feel more of a dependency on it, because of the stress this year. And I'd say the same thing about alcohol or any other substance."

On Tuesday night, superstar LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will be begin their title defense when they face the rival Los Angeles Clippers to kick off the season. The Lakers are a strong favorite to repeat, but Silver is not making any predictions.

"I like the refs," he said.