‘Do the best you can’: The lessons learned in the NBA’s two most unprecedented seasons

  • Senior writer for ESPN.com
  • Spent seven years at the Los Angeles Daily News

ADAM SILVER STRODE to the podium before Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks last week, ready to address the basketball issues du jour.

Like every member of the media and the public relations staffers in the interview room underneath Phoenix Suns Arena, Silver had to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and produce a negative test within the previous 24 hours to attend.

But as compared to the hurdles he and the league had cleared since the pandemic began, it was not a bother.

It was just good, Silver said, to be back in the same place together.

“There aren’t that many places, even pre-pandemic, where people gather in the way they do in arenas, come together for a common purpose … and literally breathe each other’s air,” he said.

“I think that’s part of the human connection. I really do miss that.”

Normalcy, or something resembling it, was in sight. And Silver was taking stock of how he and the NBA had navigated this abnormal period — but also the mark it had left.

The NBA was able to restart and complete its 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, and Silver made a point of thanking all the players, coaches, team employees and adjacent entities to the NBA — such as the media and vendors who staffed games — who’d made personal sacrifices to keep the league going.

But it was a slog, in every sense of the word. Isolating, humbling, trying. All of those words apply too.

“I think the league, as a whole, should be really proud that we made it through,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Because this year, in a lot of ways, was just about survival.”

The past year and a half has been exhausting, every decision exacting an existential and physical toll. It wasn’t enough to decide that the NBA would do whatever it took to keep playing throughout the pandemic. There are untold stories of COVID-19 outbreaks, mounting injury numbers and important and continuing conversations surrounding race and law enforcement.

These have been, in many ways, the most consequential and unprecedented two seasons in NBA history.

“Frankly, we may not know for quite a while,” Silver said, “whether we made the right decisions or not.”

FOR SOME, LIKE Dallas Mavericks guard Josh Richardson, the past 16 months are probably best forgotten.

“I mean, I got COVID twice,” Richardson says. “I’m hoping that this is just a memory that we look back on a few years and like, ‘Oh yeah, that was crazy.'”

But then he caught himself.

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