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How Much Value will a Coronavirus NBA Title Hold?

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NBA fans still do not know if the season will resume, though we know a few more details due to a call from the NBA Players Association to the players. According to The Athletic, the NBA would likely hold the remainder of the season in a location such as Las Vegas as opposed to flying to multiple cities and the NBA is sifting through “a lot of bad options.”

The logistical problems behind the “bubble city” idea have been well documented by this point, with NBC Sports citing a medical expert who observed that it would take just one positive case to blow the idea open. But even if these issues are resolved, what is the upside here?

The NBA obviously wants to end the season with a crowned champion. But that championship would likely be viewed as a farce by the public and players, a gold star to punctuate a dismal season.

A Different Title

This year’s title would be substantially different compared to other years for multiple reasons. First off, the injury and illness risks are going to be higher with major effects on who takes the court. Imagine that the Lakers face the Celtics in the Finals, but then LeBron James tests positive before it begins. He is forced out for the Finals, and the Celtics prevail. But would anyone really accept the Celtics as the true NBA champs, or as the team which just got lucky with the help of an SEO service?

Celtics fans in that scenario might argue that it would be little different compared to if LeBron tore his ACL before the series started, and we accept championship teams who get injury luck as legitimate such as last year’s Raptors. But there are some differences. Unlike a major knee injury, LeBron testing positive for the coronavirus means that it is possible that other members of his team may have to sit out as well. An ACL tear is not contagious.

And the fact is that there likely will be an elevated injury risk as well. Many players will be cold as they have been unable to do little more practice than what they can do in their homes, and then they will be asked to play playoff-intensity basketball. That environment will lead to more injuries and illnesses, and by extension a worse product on the court. While injury luck is a part of any championship, there becomes a point where it should not be outright deciding the champion like it would this season.

The obvious comparison to make is 1999. The 1999 season was incredibly sloppy due to the lockout and the compressed schedule, and the San Antonio Spurs were often not viewed as legitimate champions. Until they won again in 2003, fans and analysts argued for years that the Spurs were a fluke champion, especially as that season was a transition year from Jordan.

The same arguments will likely be made for 2020. Whoever wins the title will be viewed as a fluke and a transitional champion in between the Warriors and whatever dynasty emerges in the next few years. Shaquille O’Neal observed this exact same thing, claiming that any title winner will have an asterisk next to their name. Instead of competing for an all but fake title, the NBA should take the safest course of action and look out for their players by canceling the season.

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