NBA Players, Owners Agree to 72-Game 2020-21 Season Starting Dec. 22

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2020

The court floor and league logo are shown after Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The NBA will be back before the year is over. 

On Thursday, the National Basketball Players Association confirmed its representatives tentatively approved a 72-game season that will begin Dec. 22. 


NBPA STATEMENT ON THE 2020-2021 NBA SEASON START DATE AND SCHEDULE 🔗: https://t.co/BmNtnYsm63 https://t.co/AvCaVAOWK7

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the sides had agreed to a deal. 

Charania and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski provided more details:

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

The NBPA player rep vote has completed, approving a December 22 start/72-game regular season, source tells ESPN. Next up: NBA/NBPA finishes financial terms on amended CBA, which will take into next week. Expect trade moratorium to be lifted shortly prior to Nov. 18 Draft.

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

Sources The NBA and NBPA are discussing a minimum of 2 percent annual growth in the salary cap and luxury tax for the duration of the collective bargaining agreement. Cap is expected to be $109M this offseason.

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

The NBA and NBPA are expected to discuss moving up the start of free agency as early as possible to accommodate players joining new teams so close to a Dec. 1 start of training camps, sources tell ESPN.

This news was widely expected. The New York Times' Marc Stein reported Wednesday that "all the momentum on the player side" pointed toward training camps on Dec. 1 ahead of the regular season three weeks later.

The Athletic's David Aldridge also spoke to an agent who referenced the potential consequences of eschewing the tabled proposal:

David Aldridge @davidaldridgedc

Hearing from multiple prominent player agents that have communicated w/their clients that the union is highly likely to accept the NBA’s proposal for a 72-game 2020-21 season beginning Dec. 22. "We have to," one agent said. The projected losses of waiting later are too great.

With the COVID-19 pandemic putting the 2019-20 season on hold, one question among many was how it would disrupt the league's calendar going forward. The NBA Finals didn't conclude until Oct. 11, which made the traditional mid-to-late October start for the next year all but impossible.

One line of thinking was that the NBA would stand by until the development of a COVID vaccine allowed for fans to return to arenas in big numbers again. Some stadiums have admitted fans in other leagues, albeit well below capacity.

The drawback to that approach is that it's unclear when a vaccine will be forthcoming.

In a September interview with Bob Costas for CNN, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that January was his "best guess" on a start date. He added that one goal would be to play games in home arenas with fans but that a number of logistical issues needed to be resolved on that front.

However, Charania reported on Oct. 23 that the NBA league office told its board of governors Dec. 22 was the new tentative target.

ESPN's Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst provided some more context. The plan would see the regular season shortened from 82 games to 72 and the 2021 All-Star Game canceled. The report stated the NBA was "abandoning plans to delay the opening with hopes of incorporating fans back into arenas."

Windhorst explained one reason behind Dec. 22 specifically during the Oct. 26 episode of his Hoop Collective podcast. TNT would be able to air the Los Angeles Lakers' season opener, when their players will collect their NBA championship rings, and ESPN would have its regular slate of Christmas Day games.

Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe provided the possible financial ramifications: "The league believes that a Dec. 22 start that includes Christmas Day games on television and allows for a 72-game schedule that finishes before the Summer Olympics in mid-July is worth between $500 million and $1 billion in short- and long-term revenues to the league and players, sources said."

Any proposal from the league needed the players' approval, and Charania noted how a Christmas-time opening was "quicker than expected," alluding to a level of resistance that could grow.

Lakers swingman Danny Green posited on The Ringer NBA Show that some of his teammates, including LeBron James, might choose to sit out for an extended period to allow themselves a little extra rest:

#RingerNBA @ringernba

The NBA is looking to get things started up again on December 22, but @DGreen_14 and the other Lakers aren’t too keen on it 😅 Full #RealOnes with @loganmmurdock and Raja Bell: https://t.co/yYIdpuK49o https://t.co/NHwFIVG00D

Not every team was in the same position as the Lakers and Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat, though. The eight franchises that didn't travel to the Walt Disney World Resort bubble haven't played since March, and those that didn't make deep postseason runs will have had a slightly more traditional offseason in terms of length.

Without a further reduction in the number of games, a December start was arguably the only alternative if the NBA wanted to revert back to its regular October-April regular-season calendar for 2021-22.