Paul Zeise: Don’t look to the Chinese Basketball Association for hope

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China is about two months ahead of the United States in terms of containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and that is reflected in a number of key factors. China has seen the spread of the virus reach its apex and now the number of new cases have plummeted, and many areas have begun to open back up to normal business.

Naturally, the Chinese Basketball Association, China’s major professional basketball league, is trying to get its season restarted. The CBA shut down its season in January, about two months ahead of the NBA and NHL.

There has been many discussions about when the CBA would get started again. The original plan was for it to begin at some point this week. That plan was then pushed back to April 15, and now according to ESPN it is going to be pushed back again and likely won’t get started until early May.

That is a timeline — which is still optimistic, at best — that suggests we won’t see the NBA or NHL resume until July at the earliest. Maybe the CBA could lay the groundwork for a feasible way to resume safely. And that would be something the NBA and NHL could use to restart their seasons more quickly than it took the CBA to return.

I don’t know what is possible, though, as there are so many issues that will need to be resolved, so many questions answered and so many hurdles cleared before any league can get going again. I was actually looking forward to watching the CBA this week because at least it would be live sports to watch.

But deep down I knew it was probably way too optimistic to think any professional sports league could resume now and guarantee the safety of all involved. The Chinese took the first step by having every international player return to China and then self-quarantine for 14 days to ensure they were safe.

The problem becomes, though, how do you keep everyone safe from a virus that is as contagious as COVID-19 in a country where it is still being spread, even if the rate of infection has slowed down? If one player gets it, he could easily pass it to all of his teammates, and then it could quickly be passed to referees, coaches and opponents.

And that is where the problem is — currently there is no way to ensure every participant in a given league is safe from COVID-19. A player could test negative, but unless you are going to test every participant every day, I am not sure how they can be kept safe.

That’s why there are so many discussions right now about what is realistic in terms of sequestering athletes in order to get these leagues back up and running. The idea seems silly and is mostly dismissed because these are real humans and have families, etc.

I would counter with this: We sequester juries all the time. I just re-watched the documentary “O.J. Simpson: Made in America” on ESPN and that jury for his murder trial was sequestered for 266 days. Think about that; they kept ordinary citizens locked up in a hotel for almost nine months and those people were only getting paid $50 a day.

I bring this up because it is an idea being floated by the CBA and one I don’t think should be completely dismissed. For one thing, athletes want to play. They want to get paid, they want to compete for championships.

What would be the response if you asked the roughly 450 players in the NBA, “Would you be willing to resume play if it meant being sequestered in a town until your team was eliminated?” I would be willing to bet you’d get about 95 percent, if not more, of the players saying yes. That’s a choice between playing and not playing, and players want to play.

According to ESPN, the CBA is considering this kind of plan. League officials are talking about putting all the teams in one city, have them play in the same arena with no fans and then monitor players’ health constantly. ESPN also wrote that the NBA is considering something similar and is looking at several options.

I don’t know if this is something that is workable, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. It is going to take a lot of creativity and flexibility on the athletes’ part in order for sports to return in some capacity.

The Chinese Basketball Association may lead the way and may show us a plan that is workable, The flip side, though, is the CBA will show us that it is mostly impossible to get professional sports leagues back up and running any time soon.


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