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ESSAY: Time to shut it down

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New York City On Edge As Coronavirus Spreads Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

On Friday, Rich Kleiman, Kevin Durant’s manager and business part, said what an increasing number of people are thinking: It’s time to just say, it’s over. Too much is going on. Lets end the season and move on, he told ESPN...

“It’s hard to me to imagine that an NBA season could return when you hear the number of casualties predicted, when you hear the number of people who will be afflicted by this. And to think these guys can just go. You know what. I do understand that all of us are working within these conditions, for sure. Maybe some things are just not salvageable.”

A lot of us would like to see a return to play, a return to normalcy in at least one aspect of our shuttered existence brought on by the coronavirus.

But there is plenty of data that suggests this would be virtually impossible ... and simply not advisable. It would have to be done with minimal people and a maximum number of venues ... and that would succeed in nothing more than a faintest shadow of what the NBA has looked like for 75 years.

So, for a moment, put that hope aside and look at the reality, as ugly as it is.

Assume the NBA goes right to the playoffs, with the standings on March 11 the final post-season seeds. That’s still 16 teams. Where do they practice? They can’t practice at home, that’s for sure.

Of the 22 states, the District of Columbia and Ontario where the NBA play, ALL of the states plus the district and Ontario have some sort of “stay-at-home” orders and 15 of them have full bans, prohibiting athletic events within very stringent limits on gatherings. (Oklahoma, where the Thunder plays, has something called “safer-at-home.”)

Cities in states without restrictive orders like Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City have instituted their own bans. Two days ago, Arizona, home of the Suns; Florida, home of the Heat and Magic; and Georgia, home of the Hawks instituted bans. I’m not sure ANY team can use its own arena or training facility to practice.

What about Las Vegas as a centralized location for the games and practices? That’s been floated. Vegas does have a number of venues, but the governor of Nevada has specifically banned “sleepovers, play dates, concerts, theater outings, or athletic events. (emphasis added.)” Nevadans have been ordered to stay six feet away from each other. The Strip is closed, casinos shuttered.

Bottom line: There is NO safe place to run practices let alone games. The orders keep being extended and tightened.

But won’t the bans ultimately be lifted? As Dr. Anthony Fauci has said, you don’t set the schedule, the virus does. The death toll is mounting, as Kleiman noted. The line, as Governor Mario Cuomo says gravely, is still going up.

In New York State, where many of us live, there have been 562 deaths due to the virus over the past 24 hours, a higher toll than the state saw in the first 27 days of March. The death toll is now above 1,000. The sound of sirens fill the night air in Brooklyn and Queens, the hottest of all pandemic hot spots on Earth.

While New York State is expected to peak on April 30, it could be before — or after that . And a peak doesn’t mean an end to the threat. It just means the death toll will start to slowly recede at that point, not drop off a cliff. The pandemic will continue to be devastating for months. Cities across the country won’t be spared. The peaks in those cities, like Las Vegas, will come in the weeks and months after New York.

As of Friday, just short of 4,000 Americans had died, with a confirmed caseload of nearly 200,000. The White House’s coronavirus task force is predicting 100,000 to 240,000 fatalities.

Do not look at the Chinese model for a hope either. After some initial optimism in the People’s Republic — some might say euphoria— about a decrease in cases and deaths, Beijing has taken steps in the past few days to reverse course. Movie theaters are closed again, for example. The Chinese Basketball Association may shut down. Moreover, the U.S. intelligence community has warned China’s data on infections and deaths may have been wildly underestimated. Their success may be a lie.

But most of all, don’t think the Chinese restrictions can be replicated in the U.S. While authorities there largely limited the worst of the problem to the city of Wuhan and surrounding area, the means by which they accomplished that were draconian, exhibiting the worst tactics of a police state.

Chinese authorities chased down arrested anyone who went out — food was delivered. The authorities immediately isolated anyone who was infected; separated children from parents and threw patients with non-communicable diseases out of hospitals — including cancer patients.

Finally, there is also the possibility that more NBA players than those who’ve tested positive, will be infected. Imagine if a star isn’t as lucky as KD and comes down with a life-threatening case ... or worse.

As Tiago Splitter, the Nets assistant coach, told Radio Marca, the Spanish sports station a couple of days ago, nothing is certain, not even whether players would have to wear masks!

“We don’t know when we will be able to train, nor do I say play. Nobody knows anything. They don’t even know if we will have to wear masks or not. It’s crazy.”

Go no further than Garrett Temple’s comments as vice president of the NBPA at the beginning of the week. Speaking with The Athletic, he laid out some of the challenges…

—”If the 50-people-or-less (in most states) changes, then you’d need at least 150, 200 people to actually run a game and have TV broadcasts and everything like that.” That’s with no fans. Each of those 150 to 200 people will be more vulnerable as they leave their homes and head off to the site of practices and games.

—”the league will have it under control to where we can play if (all the players) are negative. And whoever isn’t negative, in terms of whoever needs to be in the facility, cannot go into the facility. I would feel comfortable if we have that, and also the facilities being disinfected prior to, directly prior to us entering them.” More tests.

—”Nobody knows how that’s going to look in terms of playoffs, or after the next game do you continue doing that (test everyone) for each game or during the playoffs do people stay in the same area?” Of course, they will.

Most leagues around the world have been shut down, from South Korea to Russia. The Euroleague like the NBA, is trying to hang on but there are calls for it to shut down as well.

The NBA has issues with revenues and expenditures, the players with salaries. Some owners have cash flow problems. The Rockets and Suns have financial issues, Brian WIndhorst said two days ago, and according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, Heat owner Micky Arison has lost about 40 percent his net worth, more than $4 million.

Kleiman understands the financial aspects.

“And I get it: there will have to be some things figured out on the financial standpoint. And I’d love to be able to have a voice in that because I understand that it’s real. What I do know is that maybe this can’t be fixed.”

He’s right. It’s time to do the right thing and shut it down, shatter the false hopes. Spencer Dinwiddie, in talking to GQ last week, rightly credited the NBA with alerting the country to the severity of the situation when it suspended play. It’s time for the league to do it again and just shut it down.

Stay safe.