N.B.A. owners on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a restart plan featuring 22 of the league’s 30 teams at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in July to complete what the league described as the “first formal step among many required to resume the season.”
The single-site proposal was ratified by a vote of 29 to 1, with the Portland Trail Blazers as the sole opposition, according to a person who was familiar with the results but not authorized to discuss them publicly. According to league rules, a minimum of 23 votes was required to pass the measure put forth by Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner.
The N.B.A. announced after the vote that the league and the National Basketball Players Association remained in negotiations to “finalize a comprehensive season restart plan” aimed at establishing “a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to Covid-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices.”
The N.B.A. would be among the largest and most-watched North American sports leagues to return, following announcements by the N.H.L., Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League that they will resume play in the summer in some fashion.
The league’s return-to-play plan, approved on what would have been the first day of the finals for this season, will next be reviewed by the players’ union, which has scheduled a virtual meeting for its executive committee and individual team representatives on Friday, according to three people with knowledge of the timetable who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The league has been hopeful that the close working relationship that Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul, the union president, maintains with Silver — as well as its ongoing talks with Michele Roberts, the union’s executive director, and other players on the board — is indicative of the players’ desire to approve the plan.
“While the Covid-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts,” Silver said in a statement. “We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
To earn one of the 22 invitations to Disney World, teams had to be within six games of a playoff berth as of March 11, when the N.B.A. abruptly suspended the season in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Joining the 16 teams that occupied playoff spots on March 11 are five teams from the West (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix) and Washington from the East.
The season is thus over for Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota and the Knicks — teams that may wind up enduring a nearly nine-month wait for their next competitive game. The N.B.A. revealed Thursday that it was considering opening the 2020-21 season on Dec. 1 rather than its usual start in October.
After it ruled out inviting all 30 teams, the N.B.A. settled on 22 to build a competitive field while also reducing the number of people entering its planned safety bubble in Florida. The league spent much of May looking for a compromise ranging from 20 to 24 teams after deciding that proceeding straight into the playoffs with a 16-team field was not only unfair to the handful of teams within close range of a playoff berth when play was suspended, but that it was also potentially damaging to the overall quality of play.
The league arrived at 22 teams last week for competitive and, of course, financial reasons. Having that many teams participate would enable the N.B.A. to stage what it has called 88 “seeding games” without fans — eight for each team — and up to four playoff play-in games before the postseason. The games would help several teams satisfy their local television contracts and thus lessen some of the revenue losses incurred leaguewide this season.
After the seeding games, the teams that finished ninth in each conference would be granted an opportunity to face the No. 8 seed in a play-in round as long as they were no more than four games back in the standings — with two consecutive wins required for the No. 9 seed to wrest the final playoff spot away. The league would proceed from there with its standard playoff format, featuring four best-of-seven playoff rounds with seeding from 1 to 8 in the East and West, which could take the season from a restart date of July 31 into mid-October.
Teams are tentatively expected to report to the Orlando area in the July 7 to 9 range and will soon begin recalling their out-of-town players to ramp up training in their own practice facilities before heading to Disney World, which can stage several games daily in the three arenas available at the 220-acre ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
The N.B.A. also confirmed Thursday that if the season resumed July 31 as now scheduled, it would hold the 2020 draft lottery on Aug. 25, followed by the 2020 N.B.A. draft on Oct. 15. Free agency leading into the 2020-21 season would tentatively start on Oct. 18.