It will be a quick turnaround for LeBron James, left, Anthony Davis and the NBA champion Lakers, who will have just 73 days from the last game of the NBA finals to opening night of the 2020-21 season. Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The NBA’s plans for an accelerated start to the upcoming 2020-21 season are a go.

After weeks of negotiations, the National Basketball Players Association voted to approve the NBA’s plan for a 72-game schedule that begins Dec. 22. The NBA draft will take place Nov. 18 as planned, free agency will commence shortly thereafter, and training camps will open Dec. 1. That timeline enables the NBA to begin a typical 82-game schedule for the 2021-22 season on time next fall.

“The Board of Player Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has tentatively approved a start date of December 22, 2020 for the 2020-2021 NBA season and a 72-game schedule,” the NBPA said in a statement.

While the NBA and the NBPA are in the middle of a collective bargaining agreement that runs through 2023-24, the two sides have repeatedly renegotiated terms because of the coronavirus pandemic. They spent months planning and executing the bubble at Disney World over the summer and recommitted to talks shortly after the finals concluded in October.

The agreed-upon schedule represents a quick turnaround from last year, with opening night set for just 73 days after the final game of the NBA finals. By comparison, 132 days passed between the final game of the 2019 finals and the start of last season. The NBA is attempting to make up for lost time after the coronavirus prompted a four-month shutdown March 11.

Initially, the two sides floated the possibility of a January or February start to the season, but the NBA reversed its position once it became clear that the ongoing spread of the virus would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to host large amounts of fans in arenas this season.


The United States saw a record 116,707 new coronavirus cases Thursday, and Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that sporting events might not see a return to normal until the fourth quarter of 2021. The Athletic reported Thursday that the NBA might seek to open a portion of luxury suites at limited capacity this season.

The players’ union initially was reluctant to move so quickly through the offseason and preferred starting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in large part because of the physical and mental toll of the bubble. But delaying the start until January could have cost the NBA as much as $1 billion, reported, and the players had little tolerance for further hits to their wallets as the clock ticked on their decision.

With an estimated $4 billion drop in game-day revenue coming this season because of the coronavirus, the sides ultimately concluded they needed to maximize their television visibility by playing showcase games on Christmas Day and returning the postseason closer to its standard calendar. The NBA’s postseason television ratings, which were held in August, September and October this year, sagged with competition from the NFL, MLB and college football.

Some teams will find themselves more rushed than others. The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat will be hardest hit; they will be asked to report to training camp just seven weeks after concluding the finals in October. Lakers star LeBron James joked last week on HBO that he would be ramping up slowly.

“I’m cherry-picking the whole first half of the season,” James said.

But eight teams that weren’t invited to the bubble haven’t played since March. Six more, including the Washington Wizards, have been off since mid-August. All told, 22 of 30 teams haven’t played since at least the first week of September.


“Additional details remain to be negotiated and the NBPA is confident that the parties will reach agreement on these remaining issues,” the union’s statement concluded Thursday night.

Among those details: an agreement on health and safety protocols and the exact financial terms governing next season. The league plans to use its normal arenas and travel extensively rather than play in a restricted bubble, thereby vastly increasing the risk of positive coronavirus tests among players. No players tested positive in the Disney World bubble, but the NBA must now brace for the possibility of widespread positive tests that have impacted the NFL, MLB and college football, in some cases canceling games.

“We always think of player health as the number one factor in all the decisions that we make,” NBPA vice president Andre Iguodala told ESPN this week.

The owners and players will attempt to keep the salary cap and luxury tax line close to last season. This approach would provide a degree of financial stability to the entire system, but it also would require that a portion of player salaries be held in escrow to account for the steep projected revenue declines.

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