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NBA Play Resumes After Shortest Off-Season In League History

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Ready or not, it is time for the NBA again. It's only been a little more than two months since LeBron James and the LA Lakers won last season's title. And now a new season is starting tonight. This is the shortest off season in the history of the league. And we have NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman here. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So if you're the NBA, why rush into another season?

GOLDMAN: Good question. And I'll give you a couple of reasons. Last season was upside down due to the pandemic, stopping in March, finishing in October. The league wanted to get closer to a more normal calendar by doing a December to July season, finishing before the Summer Olympics. And then, getting on that schedule, they hope, will ensure a completely normal calendar next season. The other reason, the NBA revenue fell by almost a billion dollars last season. And more losses were looming this season without fans for the most part. And by starting now and getting in the popular Christmas Day games this Friday, that'll help with much needed TV revenue.

GREENE: I have to ask you this, though. I mean, the category of if it's not broken, don't fix it - last season, the NBA got all this praise for finishing in this protective bubble with all the teams in Florida, you know, mostly safely. It seemed to work. Why wouldn't the league do that again?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Absolutely, it was a success. No players tested positive. The league didn't have to postpone or cancel any games during the few months in Florida. But isolating players from the outside world this coming season for anywhere from five to seven months, that was untenable, according to the NBA. And owners wanted to start getting back to their arenas because they lost a lot of money last season in lost attendance. Six teams are starting this season, allowing small numbers of fans. The league is hoping with the rollout of vaccines that getting most or all teams going might be possible by late spring or early summer.

GREENE: But, I mean, a vaccine for everyone is months away. So isn't this a risk for the NBA?

GOLDMAN: Well, sure, yeah. I mean, the NFL, college football, the early stages of college basketball all having to postpone games, reschedule games - and now the NBA, a close-contact, indoor sport, teams playing several games each week, traveling a lot. So it is a risk. And yesterday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said they expect bumps in the road, which is why the league, again, has a massive set of health and safety protocols they hope players adhere to and why the NBA only released a schedule for the first half of the season right now. They want to stay nimble in case there have to be postponements and changes to the schedule.

GREENE: OK. So they're acknowledging they might have to be ready to pivot. Well, let's talk basketball. I mean, assuming they can navigate this, Tom, what are we going to see on the courts?

GOLDMAN: Oh, man. So much great basketball, so many young, emerging stars, so little time to talk about Luka Doncic, Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, Ja Morant - stop me, David. There are so many.

GREENE: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: But tonight's openers, we celebrate really good old guys, you know, in their late 20s and 30s. You've got old man and still pretty good LeBron and his Lakers against the Clippers in Round 1 in the battle for LA. The other game, the Brooklyn Nets, suddenly title contenders, with two superstars back after injuries last season, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They're going against the Golden State Warriors - remember them? - a dynasty just a couple of years ago...

GREENE: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Then had horrible injuries and the worst record in the league last season. But Steph Curry is back to mesmerize us. So tonight's a fun start to a season that NBA fans hope can last.

GREENE: I love the idea of keeping an eye on the old men of the NBA in their 20s and 30s.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Tom, thank you so much, as always.

GOLDMAN: David, you're welcome.

GREENE: Sports correspondent Tom Goldman on the beginning of the NBA season this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK'S "SURFER'S PARADISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.