Africa, tune in: the NBA is back on your screens

It’s been almost five months since the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended its 2019/2020 season. And although it also strangely seems like just yesterday, much has changed since March 11.

Since the fateful night it was announced that one of the league’s players had contracted the coronavirus, the world has seemingly turned upside down and nothing has quite been the same. The NBA, however, has done and is doing everything in its power to keep its season alive and to crown a league champion no later than October 13.

Without question the stoppage in play has proved to be the truest test of player-executive negotiations and an undeniable logistical nightmare to get to where we are today — on the precipice of the NBA season restart on Thursday. 

To get to this point, the league has had to take on the incredibly costly exercise (to the tune of more than $150-million, according to reports) of relocating 22 teams to Disney’s expansive ESPN sports complex in Orlando, Florida and trying to keep it free of Covid-19 by locking teams and media down on the premises.

The league also conducted extensive negotiations with its players association in order to get buy-in from those who were concerned the restart would take away from the United States’ recent protests against racism and police brutality. When players step back on to the court, the courts will read “Black Lives Matter” and players will wear messages in support of racial and social justice on their jerseys instead of their numbers.

And as of right now, the NBA’s “bubble” has proved logistically successful as well. Last week, all players who are now situated at the compound, just under 350, tested negative for the coronavirus and (broadcasted) scrimmage games between teams commenced. 

As it stands, the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics sit atop of the Eastern Conference leaderboard and the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets lead the West. These standings could change by the time the playoffs begin on August 17, although the coveted home court advantage that the seedings secure will now be rendered obsolete.

Aside from the lowest-seeded returning teams that will be playing for the opportunity to compete in the playoffs — which will more than likely lead to quick first-round exits — the most anticipated segment of the season restart will undoubtedly be the conference finals and beyond. Much has been made about whether the victors of this season will be respected as such or will have asterisks put next to their championship because of the ongoing pandemic and the opt-out decisions some players have taken.

Asterisks or no asterisks and pandemic permitting, the NBA finals are scheduled to tip-off on September 30 and the world will be watching. And this season, Africa has a greater chance of tuning in. Besides the NBA’s own League Pass service, African fans will be able to tune in via e.TV, Canal+, ZAP and TV5Monde.

On Monday, MultiChoice also announced that it would be broadcasting ESPN content on its DStv bouquet after a six-year hiatus, making the NBA’s restart season available to 50 countries all over sub-Saharan Africa.

Official games begin on Thursday, July 30. Follow @GoldenHoops_SA for more information and updates.

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