The Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for this summer, were postponed to next year following the coronavirus outbreak. This could impact one of the Games’ marquee events with commissioner Adam Silver acknowledging Friday that the league has no plans to pause the 2021 NBA season, even with the Olympics slated for next summer.
The NBA’s four-month COVID shutdown will inevitably delay the start of next season, which likely won’t start until January at the earliest. Assuming that’s the case, the NBA’s 2021 campaign would assuredly stretch into the summer months, creating a potential conflict for players hoping to suit up in Toyko.
In its history, the league has never encountered this situation—under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, the NBA season is typically wrapped up by mid-June at the latest, affording interested players plenty of time to prepare for the Olympics. We’ve seen the NHL put its season on hold for players competing in the Winter Games, but with the NBA already behind schedule following this year’s COVID stoppage, commissioner Silver doesn’t anticipate doing the same.
“I think it's unlikely, at the end of the day, that, if we start late, we would stop for the Olympics,” said Silver in comments transcribed by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “Because, as you know, it's not just a function of stopping for the period in which they are competing over in Tokyo. But they require training camp and then they require rest afterwards."
Barring further COVID complications, the Olympics will be held in Tokyo between July 23 and August 8 of next year. The NBA postseason will likely be going on at the same time, preventing players and even some coaches—Gregg Popovich (USA), Nick Nurse (Canada) and Mike Brown (Nigeria) all coach on the international circuit—from making the trip to Japan.
When asked if the league had considered a workaround that would allow players to represent their countries in Tokyo, Silver didn’t sound optimistic. "Even if we set out to plan for the Olympics, how can they even know what the world is going to be like next summer and whether they can go forward?” asked Silver, questioning whether the Olympics will even take place with COVID still wreaking havoc across the globe.“I think during these extraordinary times, all the conventional rules are off the table and everybody is going to have to make certain accommodations."
NBA players have competed in the Olympics since 1992 when the United States debuted their iconic “Dream Team” in Barcelona. Prior to that, only amateurs (largely college players) were allowed to participate. The U.S., led by coach Mike Krzyzewski and leading scorer Kevin Durant, went undefeated at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, defeating runner-up Serbia by a lopsided 96-66 margin in the decisive Gold Medal Game.