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NBA to Return With 22-Team Format, October NBA Finals

Season would resume July 31 in Orlando

The NBA will crown its champion in Disney World in an attempt to finish out its 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBA board of governors approved a plan on Thursday that would see play tip off again July 31 at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

The plan, which passed with a vote of 29-1, will see 22 of the league’s 30 teams return. The league still has to finalize the plan with the players union, which will meet on Friday, according to the New York Times. Considering how closely NBA commissioner Adam Silver and union president Chris Paul worked together on the league’s return, it is expected to be approved.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step towards resuming the NBA season,” Silver said. “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. 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.”

Here is how the NBA’s format will work: The 22 teams include the 16 that currently qualify for the playoffs, plus an additional six that are within shouting distance of the playoffs. Each team would play eight more games to determine final seeding, followed by a play-in tournament to determine the last two playoff teams.

The proposed schedule will see the NBA Finals end no later than Oct. 12, with the following season pushed back until December.

The NBA’s return will give ESPN a much-needed injection of live sports, which has been forced to air old games and documentaries since the mid-March suspension of the season. The start of NFL free agency and the league’s draft in April gave ESPN a brief respite from its desolate programming lineup.

Since the mid-March shutdown, sports have slowly begun to return to the field, including NASCAR and UFC. International soccer leagues like Germany’s Bundelisga resumed play in mid-May, while the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga are scheduled to pick back up this month.

Whether Major League Baseball, which ESPN also airs, will be able to begin its 2020 season is still up in the air. The league and its players’ association have argued through the press over the number of games and monetary concerns. Unlike the other sports leagues, which are finishing out their suspended seasons, MLB never started its 2020 campaign.