PHOENIX — The NBA may emerge from the pandemic on better financial footing than it first anticipated, though Commissioner Adam Silver warned Tuesday that it’s too early to declare things fully back to normal.
Silver, at his annual pre-NBA Finals news conference, said he believes the league weathered the pandemic and all that came with it — including much less revenue from the lack of fans in arenas for much of the last 15 months — relatively well, noting that even he was surprised to see many teams were able to have full buildings during the playoffs.
“Financially, for the season, without getting into it too specifically, we did somewhat better than we initially projected,” Silver said.
Silver had said that the lack of in-game revenue — ticket sales, concessions, food and drink and the like — may have meant the league would see a 40% dip in that cash stream. But, in part because some arenas had fans later in the regular season and then more than 1 million tickets being sold in playoff games, that dip could be closer to 33%.
“No question, the league will incur significant losses over the past two years,” Silver said. “I will say though, I’m not here to complain about that. Just speaking for our team owners, they view it as a long-term investment in the league and something very necessary to keep these organizations going. And by the way, it was shared sacrifice by our players as well.”
Players took “significant reductions” in salary this season, Silver said, something that was negotiated by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. That hit will be spread out over several seasons.
The league — which estimated its loss in revenue from last season at $1.5 billion — plans on returning to normal this fall, with the season starting in mid-October and likely being of the common 82-game duration. The number of games is still in some question because the play-in tournament isn’t officially back for next season, though it has long been expected that the league’s board of governors will keep it going forward.
“If things continue on track and we can move toward a new season next year that looks a lot more like normal, we’ll have weathered it very well,” Silver said.
Silver touched on many other issues, including:
Silver said the league is concerned about the number of injuries, something that has been blamed in some circles by the compressed 72-game season this season, plus the short layoff for some teams between last season and this one.
None of those reasons can be pointed to as an absolute cause, and the NBA doesn’t know why it’s happening, Silver said.
Over the coming months, it will try to find out.
“I have no doubt that the additional stress, again physical and emotional, on them contributes to injuries,” Silver said. “None of it is an exact science. It’s something that even pre-COVID, as you all know, we were very focused on at the league. We put people in place to focus exclusively on injury prevention. Precisely why we have the injuries we do is still unclear to us. It’s something that we’ll continue to study in the offseason. The trend line, unfortunately, has been going up for the last several years.”
The 82-game season isn’t set in stone going forward, either.
“We have had this 82-game season for 50-plus years,” Silver said. “I mean, is 82 optimal? You know, it’s interesting. We got this experiment during the pandemic to move to 72. Everybody thought that was the cure-all, if we just lopped 10 games off the season. I mean, obviously injuries are up, so that wasn’t it.”
Game 7 of the NBA Finals, if necessary, is July 22. Training camps for next season are set to begin on Sept. 28, meaning it is possible that Milwaukee and Phoenix are back in camp as little as 68 days following the end of the finals.
Last season’s finalists, the champion Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, had 51 days between the end of the 2020 finals and the start of this season’s training camp — with this season’s game schedule beginning 72 days after the Lakers won the title at the restart bubble at Walt Disney World.
“Was there more of a burden on those teams that went far into the playoffs and into the Finals last year? Absolutely,” Silver said.
The Toronto Raptors haven’t played a game in Canada since February 2020. Silver said he’s hoping that changes this fall.
The NBA still isn’t sure if the Raptors — who played this season in Tampa, Florida — will be going home, but there is optimism that it’ll happen for next season.
“I know it’s incredibly meaningful to the team,” Silver said. “I think there was that additional burden placed on the Raptors more than any other team by having to relocate for the season. But we are hopeful the team will be back if things continue as we’re seeing in Canada right now.”
The NBA has seen four minority coaches hired in recent days, with Jason Kidd in Dallas, Chauncey Billups in Portland, Ime Udoka in Boston and Nate McMillan having the interim title removed in Atlanta.
That means the league has 10 Black coaches right now out of 27; three jobs remain unfilled.
“In terms of Black coaches, obviously we have seen positive developments there in terms of the number of vacancies that are being filled,” Silver said. “I will say that not unlike a lot of organizations that are dealing with diversity issues, this is something that requires daily attention. So again, positive movement in that direction, but we’re not going to rest on our laurels there.”
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