NBA season to tip off as commish hopes for Irving’s return
By Tim Reynolds
The Associated Press
Adam Silver, the basketball fan, would prefer to see Kyrie Irving on the court again with the Brooklyn Nets as soon as possible.
Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, would prefer to see Irving vaccinated.
Silver said Monday he hopes Irving — one of the few players in the league who has not yet chosen to be vaccinated — changes his mind before long and clears a path to get back on the floor with the Nets.
“I would like to see our players vaccinated, because I think it’s a public service of sorts, particularly to young people who might not see the value of getting vaccinated,” Silver said on the eve of the league’s 75th anniversary season, the third to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,
Irving cannot play for the Nets in large part because of rules unique to New York and San Francisco requiring vaccinations as a prerequisite for working. The Nets said last week that Irving would not be involved in team activities “until he is eligible to be a full participant.”
And at this time, that means vaccinated. Silver would not disclose if he has spoken with Irving directly, but made his stance clear.
“There’s nothing fair about this virus,” Silver said. “It’s indiscriminate in terms of who it impacts. And I think it’s perfectly appropriate that New York and other cities have passed laws that require people who both work and visit arenas to be vaccinated. That seems to be a responsible public-health decision.”
About 96% of NBA players have been vaccinated, Silver said. That means that about 20, or less than one per team on average, are not. Anyone working games in proximity to players this season, from referees to stat-crew employees, must be vaccinated by league mandate.
“I hope that Kyrie, despite how strongly he feels about the vaccination, ultimately decides to get vaccinated because I’d love to see him play basketball this season,” Silver said.
In other matters Silver discussed Monday:
n Silver said the league’s $10 billion revenue projection for 2021-22 is based on having full arenas all season. He said the league missed revenue projections by about 35% last season, largely because arenas were not filled for much of the year.
n There still are no resolutions to league investigations into the sign-and-trade deals that sent Lonzo Ball to Chicago and Kyle Lowry to Miami this summer. The investigations are trying to determine if the Bulls or Heat broke league rules by making contact with the players before the NBA’s negotiating window opened.
n Adding an in-season tournament, something Silver has sought for some time and models in part after what exists in European soccer, remains a viable possibility going forward. “I think we’re still in the process of formulating what would be the best proposal for all concerned,” Silver said.
n Expansion will be a serious topic again, “at some point,” Silver said. Seattle is a city the league is eyeing, but the league won’t look at growing past the current 30 teams until it is “fully through the pandemic and know that we’re back operating on all cylinders.”
Some other storylines entering the 2021-22 season:
Goals for Giannis
The last time there was an NBA contest that mattered, Giannis Antetokounmpo picked the perfect time to have the game of his life.
His numbers: 50 points, 14 rebounds. Only the third such game with that many points and rebounds in NBA Finals history. The Milwaukee Bucks were crowned world champions for the first time in 50 years, Antetokounmpo — who played through a knee injury in the series — was the easy choice as NBA Finals MVP.
And if that wasn’t enough, the story might have gotten even happier for Bucks fans two months later when Antetokounmpo announced that he’s just getting started.
“I don’t care about trophies. I don’t care about the MVP’s. I don’t care about defensive player of the years. All those things, I don’t care,”Antetokounmpo said. “I care about getting better because I know if I do that, there’s more things coming.”
The Bucks will try to become the first Eastern Conference team to win back-to-back NBA titles since Miami in 2012 and 2013.
This season is only the third in NBA history that will begin with the reigning MVP and NBA Finals MVP both hailing from outside the U.S. Antetokounmpo, who is Greek, won the finals award and Denver’s Nikola Jokic, from Serbia, was the overwhelming pick for the regular-season honor.
Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon won both awards in the 1993-94 season, and in 2006-07, San Antonio’s Tony Parker (France) won Finals MVP while Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) won the regular-season MVP award.
Back to normal
If all goes to plan, this will be the first season since 2018-19 where all teams play an 82-game schedule.
Teams played somewhere between 64 and 75 games in the 2019-20 season because of the interruption caused by the pandemic, and the schedule called for 72 games apiece last season.
The league has a new ball this season, going back to a ball made by Wilson — which provided the game ball for the first 37 NBA seasons. The league had been using Spalding since, before introducing the new ball over the summer.
“There is a difference,” said Miami guard Duncan Robinson, one of the league’s top 3-point shooters. “They tried to say it’s the same material, which it might be. … But the reality is, the feel is very similar and it’s just a matter of getting totally comfortable with it. At this point, it basically feels normal.”
In terms of specifications and the leather, the Wilson and Spalding balls are believed to be as close to identical as possible. The leather comes from the same manufacturer. But there is one subtle change, in that the Wilson ball is a slightly different shade of orange.
Golden State’s Stephen Curry won the league’s scoring title last season, averaging 32.0 points per game in a season where he turned 33.
Only one player was an older NBA scoring champion: Michael Jordan turned 35 during the 1997-98 season, when he led the NBA in scoring for the final time.