Bock’s Score: Sportsman of the Year

When the pundits get around to choosing their Sportsman of the Year that has been like no other, they can ignore the balls and bats, the pucks and punts and the rest of the paraphernalia of a normal sports year.

Instead the hands down winner should be Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association. While others sat on their hands, Silver merely saved a season in the wake of a coronavirus that has made a shambles of the sports year.

It was Silver’s smart decision to shut down his league as soon as the first hint of COVID-19 surfaced. Other executives seemed frozen in time, bewildered by an epidemic that would soon grow into a pandemic. Silver took action.

First he suspended league games and then he went about the task of reconstructing the season. He came up with the plan of gathering his teams in one place, a bubble where they would essentially be quarantined. All teams would live in a corner of Disney World in Orlando, Fla., the players tested daily and their exposure to the virus eliminated. No fans. Limited media. Just a round robin tournament atmosphere.

It was flat out brilliant and it wasn’t long before Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League realized that Silver’s bubble idea was a pretty good solution to the problem. The NHL created two bubbles, one in Toronto, the other in Edmonton and resumed play. If it worked for the NBA, it could work for the NHL. And it did.

The NBA started testing for the virus inside the bubble in July. There have been no new cases. That’s a perfect outcome for Silver and his league.

Without a bubble to protect if, Major League Baseball has been devastated by the virus. There have been major breakouts throughout both the National and American Leagues, creating a crazy patchwork schedule in an attempt to have teams play a full 60-game season. Sixty games is about one-third of the usual full season and it will take it some fancy juggling for all teams to reach that total. Not to worry. The cardboard cutout fans with benign smiles on their faces who are seated in many of the stadiums won’t complain.

As offensive as a 60-game season is, MLB exacerbated the problem by expanding the playoffs to 16 teams. That’s a come-one, come-all approach that diminishes what once was a major accomplishment.

On deck is the National Football League season which has adopted a hands-off approach. Teams are free to decide on their own whether to admit fans. About one-third of the 32 teams will play to empty stadiums. Another third will permit limited attendance. And the rest of the teams are undecided.

That flies in the face of medical advice that insists allowing any fans to gather is a ticket to a virus outbreak.

It all sounds a little chaotic unless you’re a fan of the NBA, which has carried on a close to normal operation during a most un-normal year. And that’s why Adam Silver should be Sportsman of the Year.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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