NBA commissioner Adam Silver is paid well to run the league.


But nowhere in his job description is there a section for him – or any other sports leader – on managing a global pandemic that has disrupted sports in a way never seen before. It must give Silver stressful days and restless nights. He and owners carry a significant responsibility as the NBA moves toward resuming its season in July.

Florida’s growing number of COVID-19 cases complicates that decision.

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Silver and the league put together thorough return-to-play health and safety guidelines for the remainder of the season at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. Ominous data and modeling for Florida could derail even the most comprehensive of plans – not just for the NBA, but for Major League Baseball, the WNBA and Major League Soccer.

COVID-19 cases in Florida are rising – 3,822 new cases on Thursday, setting a daily record, surpassing the previous record (3,207) from the day before.

It’s just not increased testing leading to increased positive tests. The percentage of tests coming back positive has increased, too. The percent of new positive tests in Florida was 10% on Thursday, up from 3.17% on June 5, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The Philadelphia Phillies closed their Florida facility on Friday after five players and three staff members who gathered for workouts at their Clearwater training facility tested positive for COVID-19, the team confirmed Friday. The Toronto Blue Jays also closed their facilities, according to the ESPN.

The Tampa Bay Lightning closed their facilities on Thursday after five team employees tested positive for COVID-19, the Associated Press reported.

All that as the NBA plans to send players, coaches, staff and league executives to the Orlando area in three weeks. The Toronto Raptors are scheduled to arrive in Naples, Florida, next week.

Pulling this off remains a daunting task, fraught with many issues. In April, Silver was asked what kind of data he wanted to see that would make the league comfortable to resume play. 

“We’re looking for the number of new infections to come down,” he said. “We’re looking for the availability of testing on a large scale. We’re looking at the path that we’re on for potentially a vaccine. We’re looking at anti-virals. On top of that, we’re playing close attention to what the CDC is telling us on a federal level and what these various state rules are that are in place.”



a group of people in a park: The NBA plans to restart the 2019-20 season in Orlando.


© John Raoux, AP
The NBA plans to restart the 2019-20 season in Orlando.

Let’s look closer at Orange County, Florida, the large county (1.3 million people) that borders Disney, where the NBA is scheduled to play. Orange County had 340 confirmed cases on Thursday, 211 on Wednesday, 138 on Tuesday and 178 on Monday.

The percentage of people testing positive in relation to testing has also increased in the county, hitting 15.1% on Thursday compared to 2.1% on June 5. It was the third consecutive day of tests hitting double-digits for positives. Orange County had been stable throughout the pandemic until the past week, per the state health department data.

Of the 4,274 COVID-19 cases in Orange County, there have been 48 deaths and 389 hospitalizations.

According to a disease model by scientists at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, Florida has “all the markings of the next large epicenter … the risk there is the worst it has ever been in our projections. Miami and Florida’s southeastern counties now join the Tampa/Fort Myers area and Orlando for a fairly widespread transmission event that we forecast will continue throughout the state.”

Players are concerned. Memphis’ Justise Winslow posted on Instagram: “This (expletive) ain’t even about basketball or our safety anymore. All The Benjamins baby. Not sure if they really care if we get corona. FOH.” He tagged the NBA and National Basketball Players Association.

Players can choose not to play in Florida but need to inform their union by June 24. Others, such as Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley and Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, have contemplated not playing, saying it could be a distraction to the social justice movement happening in America.

It will not be a breach of contract if a player doesn’t play, but he won’t be paid for the time missed.

While players and others inside the controlled campus-like environment will be tested regularly and before they reach Florida, Disney employees entering and leaving the campus will not be tested, creating another level of concern.

In the NBA’s 108-page health and safety protocol document, there’s a brief section titled, “Circumstances for Suspension of the Resumption of the 2019-20 season.”

It reads: “the occurrence of a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the resumption of the 2019-20 season. The NBA and NBPA will continue to monitor the campus environment and season restart …”

The NBA does not indicate the specific circumstances that would trigger another suspension of the season, only saying, “The NBA and NBPA will work collaboratively to continue to monitor the ongoing coronavirus situation and update these Protocols as warranted and as additional information becomes available.”

The owners and players agreed to resume the season. But Silver is the one tasked with making the right decisions for the league, and Florida’s COVID-19 situation is making his job more difficult by the day.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Florida’s rising coronavirus cases complicating NBA’s plans to resume season in Orlando

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