NBA Finally Set For Tip From Orlando In Season Unlike Any Other
The NBA returns tonight with a two-game slate featuring Pelicans-Jazz and Lakers-Clippers, and there is "collective glee" that the restart is "actually here," according to Gary Washburn of the BOSTON GLOBE. The NBA has "tried feverishly to transform the bubble into a normal game setting, but that’s impossible." Tonight, "expect the players to make a social justice stance, whether it is kneeling for the national anthem or interlocking arms, as players did four years ago." Secondly, each of the three courts has "'Black Lives Matter' scripted near the scorer’s table, and there will be virtual fans in the background and crowd noise piped in." There is "complete silence when players are shooting free throws." Trash talk "can be heard clearly," and players on the bench have "no fan noise impeding their ability to talk to players on the floor" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/30). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Cohen writes tonight, a season that started with "turmoil in Hong Kong and China will restart in another semi-autonomous city, this one in Florida." The restart "represents a triumph in a wrenching year that went from a mask ban to a mask requirement." This has been the "most tumultuous season that anyone inside the league can remember." Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said, "That is hopefully the understatement of a lifetime" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/30).
CRESCENDO FOR CAUSES: In Houston, Jonathan Feigen expects the players who "made their voices heard in demands for social justice will use the platform of the NBA restart to champion the cause." Names will be "replaced on the backs of a majority of uniforms with messaging such as 'Equality,' 'Freedom' and 'Enough.'" NBA players, who along with their WNBA counterparts were "already perhaps the most outspoken athletes on societal issues, will continue to call for change" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/30). In Boston, Bruce Castleberry writes there is a "100% chance that players would kneel during the anthem," and that is "going to be enough to irritate some people, and inspire others." But Castleberry continues, "The platform used by the players is their right ... it’s the very First Amendment. But most of us just want to see the games. We’re worn out" (BOSTON HERALD, 7/30).
BUBBLE PRAISE: The CHRONICLE's Feigen writes the concept of moving the league to a "single-site setup with strict health and safety protocols seems to be working," as none of the 344 players tested in a nine-day period "returned a positive test for COVID-19." While discussions of success "come with the caveat 'so far,' there has seemed a near universal buy-in with extreme precautions required" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/30). In Philadelphia, Keith Pompey writes, "So far, the NBA bubble has been a success" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 7/30).
LAUNCHPAD FOR ZION: The first game tonight is Pelicans-Jazz, and in New Orleans, Scott Kushner wrote the league also will use its "grand reopening to highlight a 20-year old rookie, playing in his 20th career game. And it takes just four letters to explain why. Z-I-O-N." After four months of "teeth-gnashing and obstacle-hurdling to pull off an unprecedented logistical jigsaw puzzle, the NBA drops the curtain featuring the franchise in its second-smallest media market," and that is "because they have Zion Williamson" (NOLA.com, 7/29).
FANS TO PAY THE PRICE: In L.A., Mark Whicker writes, "In the end, the fans face the most adjustments. No longer can they celebrate or agonize communally. Will a Lakers win be as important, as valuable, if there’s only one pair of hands clapping?" More Whicker: "Wisely, the NBA created a new world. Now we see if it supports life as we knew it" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 7/30).