NEW YORK • The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) on Thursday tentatively approved the league’s plan to start the 2020-21 season on Dec 22, which would require players to report to their teams for training camps in less than a month – barely seven weeks after the end of the pandemic-disrupted previous season.
The union announced that it had tentatively accepted the scheduling elements of the league’s proposal to begin a shortened 72-game regular season before Christmas, a plan that took shape only two weeks ago at the strong urging of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) television partners.
The approval came in a vote of the league’s 30 player representatives, one from each team.
Negotiations to lock the new schedule in, however, are likely to continue into next week on some outstanding salary-cap and health and safety matters.
“Additional details remain to be negotiated, and the NBPA is confident that the parties will reach agreement on these remaining issues relevant to the upcoming season,” the union said in a statement.
The proposed schedule calls for training camps to begin on Dec 1 and the regular season, 10 games shorter than usual, would then run through mid-May, with the play-offs lasting into July.
The NBA’s goal is to complete the 2020-21 season before the July 23 to Aug 8 Tokyo Olympics next year and thus set up the 2021-22 season to return to the usual October-through-June pattern.
The plan is also strongly preferred by the primary media partners, Disney and Turner, following a summer and fall of dismal ratings. But there were unresolved talks about a new array of coronavirus protocols that will be needed because teams are planning to play in their home markets rather than in a “bubble”.
The league and the union are also still haggling over how much of the players’ salaries in the next two seasons will be placed into escrow.
Each season, the NBA’s 30 teams are required to spend roughly half of the league’s basketball-related income on player salaries.
The NBA typically holds 10 per cent of each player’s salary in escrow until the income has been tallied. The money in escrow is used to make up the difference for the players, in case the total paid out was too low, or the owners, if the total was too high.
The sides have been discussing a plan that would place roughly 18 per cent of player salaries over the next two seasons in escrow.
The season is expected to be played in largely empty arenas because of the pandemic, which will sharply reduce revenue.
In a typical year, Finals teams have at least three months off, but the league is expected to make financial concessions to counter the pushback from players on those teams and others who wanted a longer break after the rigours of the “bubble”.
Opening on Dec 22 would enable Turner to broadcast its usual Tuesday night double-header to start the season while also preserving Disney’s lucrative five-game slate that has become a staple of Christmas Day’s TV offerings.