Ricky Hatton has opened up about the mental health issues he has suffered since retiring from boxing says that training became his “comfort blanket”.
The four-time world champion retired from the ring in November 2012 but has struggled to cope with the void that was left in his life.
Speaking to former Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas as part of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup’s mental fitness charter, and before social distancing rules were put in place, Hatton admitted he had to face up to his demons.
‘Speak up and share your vulnerabilities’
De La Hoya & GGG gym’s struggle for survival
“That was like the beginning of the end for me,” he said.
“I thought I’ve worked so hard to achieve all these things that I’ve got and Billy Graham my trainer is not here to share it with me, my mum and dad are not here to share it with me, and I haven’t got boxing any more. I don’t care whether I live or die and that was rock bottom.”
Hatton admits he found it difficult to reach out to others but sought solace back in the gym.
“I was isolating myself at first,” he added. “I started training boxers coming into the gym and training the lads and at least tried to fill my days with something to take my mind off these demons, this voice on my shoulder saying this and that to me.
When asked what “the voice” was saying, Hatton replied.
“[It was saying] ‘What do you need to be here for, nobody loves you, you haven’t got a mum and dad, you haven’t got your best mate – your trainer, anymore, you haven’t got boxing, no one cares about you.’
“So I started doing the boxing training, but it was still going on. The boxing training, coming into the gym Monday to Friday was like my comfort blanket.
“I would come on and force a few smiles and a few shakes and everyone on the surface would say ‘Ricky is doing okay’ but then I would go home and just be sat on the settee.
“And then I would be going to the pub but when I wasn’t going to the pub I was just sat on the settee on my own. Sometimes I wouldn’t even be sat with the TV on.
“My girlfriend at the time was saying ‘Ricky, please go and speak to someone’ and in my mind, at the time, I thought to myself I’m Ricky Hatton, I’m not going to someone and say ‘I’m crying every day, I’m sat in the dark’
Murat Gassiev is “as big a puncher as the best heavyweights” and wants revenge on Oleksandr Usyk, says his trainer Abel Sanchez.
Gassiev was IBF and WBA cruiserweight champion but his thunderous run was ended in the World Boxing Super Series final by Usyk in 2018 – both boxers have now joined the heavyweight division.
Asked if Gassiev is better-suited to the bigger division, Sanchez told Sky Sports: “Absolutely. He was killing himself to make weight for cruiserweight. That’s not an excuse – Usyk was the better man on the night.
To train in Big Bear is both beautiful and brutal – its great strength, its remoteness and the harshness of nature, is also what threatens its existence.
The gym up a mountain was made famous by Oscar De La Hoya and used as a springboard for Gennadiy Golovkin’s dominance but its trainer Abel Sanchez has become fearful of what the future may hold.
Golovkin’s departure robbed Sanchez of his prized asset and the one who would attract others to the same gym. The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the struggles that lie ahead for Sanchez and his fellow mountain-dwellers.
“I will be interested as long as my guys are interested, but the virus could retire a lot of us,” Sanchez, the trainer and owner of The Summit gym in Big Bear, California, admitted to Sky Sports.
“I have four champions in my gym but when those guys are gone?
“I don’t think things will be like they used to be. People forget that we need infrastructure to develop the next Joshuas, Furys, Golovkins.
“If we don’t have the Olympics to develop these kids then we will run out of quality fighters.
“I can’t see amateur shows going on because of all the tests that will be required. This will take its toll on the amateur programme and the four-rounders or six-rounders that are needed to develop talent. It will be difficult.
“The upkeep is not the problem, because my children can use it as a vacation house. It’s the fact that there may not be the fighters available to bring up here.
“I’m in a cocoon up here but eventually we will have to fly.”
Why do I like Big Bear? Because it reminds me of my home. Snow, frosting air and pine trees! pic.twitter.com/upxZRGEZMc
Mexico-born Sanchez was a construction worker who took to developing properties in Big Bear Lake, a town of just 5,000 people in California’s San Bernardino mountains. He stopped building houses and started building boxers but, in 2001, he suffered a heart attack and his newly-renovated gym went unused.
It was ‘The Golden Boy’ De La Hoya who, after first using the mountainous environment in the 90s, thrust Big Bear back into folklore when he flung open the gym doors in 2007 to prepare to face Manny Pacquiao. The 7,000ft altitude plus its lack of distractions were its selling point for fighters.
The media flocked, the sport’s attention was gripped and a timely reminder was dealt of how stunning the backdrop was.
But it was Golovkin who kept Big Bear thriving. Sanchez received a call about him in 2010 and, after feeling the whack of his punches on the pads, came out of a decade-long hiatus to become his full-time trainer. Sanchez wrote the numbers 1-12 on a whiteboard, wrote Muhammad Ali’s name next to No 1, and left No 2 blank. Stay in Big Bear, Golovkin was told, and the No 2 spot would become his.
“My facility was originally built as a resort for my children,” Sanchez explained. “I have two condos and a private gym in my garage.
“The houses above, the two condos, are where the fighters stay. I built it so that I would have an alternative if I decide not to continue.”
But the fighters came flocking to train alongside Golovkin who preferred the mountains instead of, for example, Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym because it reminded him of Kazakhstan.
Golovkin and Sanchez’s relationship ended in 2018 after 22 fights, 20 wins, 19 via knockout. It was blighted by the two controversial Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez fights, a draw and a defeat for Golovkin.
Tyson Fury passed by prior to the first Deontay Wilder fight but cut his stay short. Undefeated British heavyweight Joe Joyce left too.
“You have to be a special sort of person to stay there otherwise you turn into a grizzly bear,” Joyce’s manager Sam Jones told Sky Sports. “It’s hard work and only the strongest survive. You have to be a certain breed of human to stay up there.
“It’s an unbelievable place, the smell of the pine reminds you of Christmas, the air is amazing. It’s such a great training facility. But get your head around the fact that it’s eat, sleep, train, repeat.
“You’ve got to be mentally ready to spend eight weeks up there. You’ve got a PlayStation and that’s it. In Vegas we’d go and play games at the weekend.
“We were once in the car and boulders of snow were falling down the mountain towards us during a blizzard!”
Jones tells another story of being rescued by the local sheriff when his car broke down at midnight, halfway up the mountain, in pitch-black darkness.
It is clear that Big Bear’s remoteness also works against it.
“Getting sparring partners up there was our biggest problem,” Jones said. “We paid an Uber $250 to bobsleigh its way up the mountain to pick up a sparring partner!”
Sanchez’s current loyalists up the mountain are former unified cruiserweight champion and emerging heavyweight threat Murat Gassiev, undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus, WBA cruiserweight champion Arsen Goulamirian and super-welterweight title challenger Michel Soro.
The rag-tag bunch are dealing with lockdown as best they can – Gassiev is back home in Russia, but Norway’s Braekhus got stuck in the US and hasn’t left Big Bear in five months.
“My gym is private and the boxers here also live here,” Sanchez said. “We have thermometers, anti-bacteria wipes, we wear masks to go to the store. I always keep a clean gym but it’s obviously dangerous outside.”
Sanchez says of Gassiev, who he has tutored for seven years: “I saw his frame and his hands – he has tremendously big hands. I said: ‘This young man will dominate the cruiserweight ranks then become a very good heavyweight’.”
He says about Braekhus, the potential rival for Katie Taylor: “Her record indicates that she is one of the greatest female fighters ever but she is very humble and would say that she isn’t. We have a poster of Christy Martin in the gym and Cecilia said: ‘That’s the pioneer and we all have a debt to pay her’. I would say Cecilia is the best ever but she would say no.”
The former Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos quarterback and Super Bowl XLVII MVP signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets on Friday, his representation announced. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the contract is worth $1.5 million but could reach $4.5 million with incentives.
Flacco, 35, was released by the Broncos in March with a failed physical designation. He played in just eight games before he landed on injured reserve with a herniated disc. Denver opted to move on from Flacco and head into 2020 with Drew Lock, who went 4-1 in the final five games, as the team's starter.
Flacco underwent neck surgery last month but could be cleared before the start of the regular season in September, according to multiple reports. The 12-year veteran has not played in more than nine games since 2017.
In New York, Flacco will be reunited with general manager Joe Douglas, who was a scout for the Ravens in 2008, when the team drafted the quarterback out of Delaware in the first round.
The Jets now will have a veteran with extensive starting experience to serve behind starter Sam Darnold. New York drafted quarterback James Morgan in the fourth round of April's NFL draft and also re-signed David Fales.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed himself getting a beard trim at a barbershop, and the state's governor didn't think that was a good move in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf didn't address Roethlisberger's case specifically but expressed a "general concern."
"Anybody who puts himself or herself into harm’s way is something that I think we ought to try to avoid," Wolf said at his coronavirus briefing Tuesday. "And when you go to something like a barbershop and you’re not protected, I don’t care who you are, the chances of that virus actually wreaking havoc on your life increases."
Roethlisberger, who had elbow surgery in September, had vowed not to shave until he was able to throw a pass to a teammate. Monday's video was designed to show where he stood in his recovery. It included a scene in a barbershop.
The ICC cricket committee have recommended a ban on using saliva to polish the ball and use of non-neutral match officials as temporary measures to mitigate for the risks posed by Covid-19.
A conference call, chaired by former Indian cricketer Anil Kumble, consulted medical advice as well as taking in the concerns of boards from around the world as international cricket looks to follow football’s lead and restart after a two-month hiatus.
At present, the earliest resumption will see England host West Indies on 8 July provided global travel and maintaining bio-secure environments at grounds are manageable. Sri Lanka are also looking to host Bangladesh and India from July.
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The committee heard from Dr Peter Harcourt, chair of the ICC’s medical advisory committee, who spoke of the elevated risk of transmitting coronavirus through saliva.
Thus, it was unanimously agreed that use of saliva to polish the ball – making it harder for a batter to face as it promotes lateral movement through the air – is to be prohibited. Sweat, however, can continue to be used given evidence shows the virus is highly unlikely yo be transmitted through sweat.
The decision to row back on the need for neutral umpires pertains to issues over travel, such as borders being closed, limited flights and quarantine periods. Appointments for matches will still be made by the ICC who will call on local match referees and umpires on their elite international panel. England are particular well-stocked in this regard, with umpires Michael Gough, Nigel Llong, Richard Illingworth and Richard Kettleborough and match referee Chris Broad – father of England fast bowler Stuart – all on the elite panel.
In the event there are no elite panel officials in the country, the best local international panel officials will be appointed. Any fears over home bias or inexperience are to be allayed by the proposal of an additional DRS review per innings in each format (originally two for Test matches and one for both ODI and T20i) as an interim measure.
Kumble, the ICC cricket committee chair, said: “We are living through extraordinary times and the recommendations the Committee have made today are interim measures to enable us to safely resume cricket in a way that preserves the essence of our game whilst protecting everyone involved.”
The recommendations will now be presented to the ICC chief executives committee in early June for approval.
"The Last Dance" – the 10-part documentary detailing the trials, tribulations and glory of Michael Jordan's dynastic Chicago Bulls – concluded its ratings bonanza run for ESPN on Sunday night.
Part of the series' popularity was surely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left sports fans ravenous for fresh content. However "The Last Dance" surely would have been a smash under normal circumstances given its rare access to Jordan while peeling back the layers of Bulls teams that retain a prominent position in popular culture and continue to be a measuring stick for NBA greatness, including the Golden State Warriors' recent powerhouses.
Such a docuseries format would, of course, be easily applicable to compelling teams in any other sport … which naturally got me thinking about NFL versions. Here are nine clubs – they all won to varying extents and, probably more importantly, each featured captivating "characters" – I'd love for NFL Films or ESPN's "30 for 30" franchise to do a deep dive on:
TAKEAWAYS: What we learned about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls from 'The Last Dance'
WINNERS, LOSERS OF 'THE LAST DANCE': Michael Jordan, Jerry Krause, Isiah Thomas and memes lead way
(Note: "The '85 Bears" has already been done by "30 for 30," hence that team's notable exclusion from this list.)
9. 1978 Oakland Raiders: This was the final season of coach John Madden's 10-year run with the Silver and Black, when they basically won 75% of their games and Super Bowl XI at a time when they were competing against Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain dynasty and Don Shula's Dolphins, among others. The book "Badasses" provides great insight into these renegade Raiders, but it would be even better to hear tales from those players, whose ranks have been sadly thinned by the losses of such colorful personalities as QB Ken "Snake" Stabler, CB Willie Brown, DE John Matuszak and LG Gene Upshaw.
8. 2011 Denver Broncos: Admittedly, these one-year wonders would likely require two episodes … max. But how delicious would it be to get the inside scoop on QB Tim Tebow's magic carpet ride, one that consistently left GM John Elway appearing like he was dealing with agita as the unorthodox southpaw led the .500 Broncos to the unlikeliest of AFC West crowns. Definitely going to need a few segments to break down the wild-card stunner of the defending AFC champion Steelers and their top-ranked defense … before Tebowmania was snuffed out 45-10 by the Patriots.
7. 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers: For half a decade, they sported one of the greatest sets of triplets in league history. QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown will likely wind up in the Hall of Fame, and RB Le'Veon Bell has time to polish his own Canton résumé. But these "Killer B's" never reached a Super Bowl together, and the flameout in 2018 was spectacular. Unhappy with his franchise tag, Bell skipped the season. Big Ben led the league in passing yards (career-high 5,129) but was at loggerheads with Brown, who was benched for the regular-season finale even though the collapsing Steelers were still vying for a playoff spot. The "he said, he said" recollections could be … delightful.
6. 1990 New York Giants: Bill Parcells' initial retirement from coaching coincided with his team's narrow escape from the Buffalo Bills to win Super Bowl XXV. It was a masterful job by Parcells, who led this team to glory – Big Blue's path included a derailment of the San Francisco 49ers' three-peat bid – even after losing starting QB Phil Simms to a broken foot in Week 15. And with storytellers such as Parcells, Simms and Lawrence Taylor delving into this past, who wouldn't want to relive it?
5. 1999 Dallas Cowboys: It was the last time "America's Team" was underpinned by "The Triplets." And even though an 8-8 record was good enough for a wild-card spot, Dallas was waxed by the Minnesota Vikings in the playoff opener. A Week 5 spinal injury prematurely ended WR Michael Irvin's career. CB Deion Sanders bolted after the season, and concussions would force QB Troy Aikman to walk away following the 2000 campaign. Still, so much to explore with the NFL's dynasty of the 1990s, which was well chronicled in Jeff Pearlman's "Boys Will Be Boys."
4. 2007 Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre's sterling final season with the Pack was plenty memorable, a surprise run to the NFC title game summarily extinguished by one of his ill-advised interceptions in overtime as the Giants prevailed at Lambeau Field. But the real fireworks occurred in the subsequent months – when Favre retired, the franchise anointed Aaron Rodgers as his successor, Favre unretired and was controversially offloaded to the New York Jets. Plenty to "unpack" here, including the genesis of a cold war between Favre and Rodgers which took years to thaw.
3. 2017 Seattle Seahawks: The final time CB Richard Sherman, S Kam Chancellor and DL Michael Bennett would play for Seattle, it was effectively the "Legion of Boom's" swan song. And there are stories to be told, from the transition of a team that had been reliant on its defense to one that depended on QB Russell Wilson … not to mention latent feelings from the Seahawks' infamous Super Bowl XLIX loss to New England, one that aborted any dynastic aspirations in the Pacific Northwest. Sherman always teems with unvarnished honesty, but this truly becomes must-see TV if RB Marshawn Lynch opts to opine in any meaningful manner.
2. 2010 Indianapolis Colts: Whenever there might be an opportunity to tap into Peyton Manning's memory bank, you take it, right? This, of course, represents Peyton's final on-field ride in Indy, one that occurred after an unprecedented decade of success but ended ignominiously with a wild-card defeat at the hands of Mark Sanchez's Jets. It'd definitely be riveting to hear Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Pat McAfee – you'd hope Tony Dungy, Edgerrin James and others who were instrumental to building this powerhouse would also participate – regale us with stories about how Manning maniacally drove the Colts while simultaneously trying to keep things light in the locker room. Yet the Favre-esque aftermath in 2011, when Manning was still listed on the roster but unable to play while trying to cure his injured neck, would be just as engrossing – especially as the team cratered, laying the groundwork for Manning's inevitable departure and Andrew Luck's arrival. Definitely potential for docu-gold here.
1. 2019 New England Patriots: We're already wondering, right? The friction between coach Bill Belichick, QB Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft near the end of their epic 20-year run together had long been rumored. TB12 finally bolted to freedom (aka Tampa) after engineering a contractual escape hatch following this season and seems rejuvenated by his new challenge (and assortment of weapons, including old buddy Rob Gronkowski). Like Jordan's Bulls, might be a minute before Brady, Gronk, Belichick (would he?) et al. are truly willing to take viewers into this inner sanctum. But it'd certainly be worth any requisite wait.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
Josh Kelly is a self-confessed armchair critic. He understands why you have an opinion on him.
“I find myself doing it! I watch a lot of golf and think ‘how could you hit such a bad shot?’ But I then think ‘are you mad?'”
The talented prospect nicknamed ‘Pretty Boy’ makes boxing look so easy that he attracts a roll of the eyes, and criticism has damaged him. In person he is a million miles away from what you expect.
Kelly fights with his hands down and his face unprotected – it is showmanship at its finest but, as a result, has divided boxing fans who can’t decide if they want him to be the new ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed or get knocked out for daring to be different.
“Walk down the street and if someone wears something different people will say ‘look at him’,” Kelly tells Sky Sports. He knows why his talent irks some people but it irks Kelly that he doesn’t receive due credit for developing such unorthodox moves.
“It’s years and years of work,” he said. “I started at 11 or 12. Coaches said ‘you can’t do that’. I would go a full round out-boxing the other geezer. I’d get caught with one shot and everyone would say ‘we saw that!’ But what about the 20 or 30 clean shots I landed through his tight guard? I can box with a tight guard but I choose to be as awkward as I can.
“I like to entertain.”
The flashy style inside the ring combined with a nickname that draws attention to a face that looks like it’s never been punched? People make assumptions about Kelly’s personality and would be shocked by how reserved and humble he is.
“I didn’t choose the nickname, Eddie Hearn did! I roll with it,” he sighs. “I’m starting not to care what people think.
“I’m an introvert. I just spend time with the kids and the Mrs. I like to try different restaurants. Low key. I like my alone time with my family, I don’t like being in the public eye. The characteristics I portray in the ring don’t transfer over to real life. People see someone on telly and say ‘look at the way he boxes, he must be a…’
“But it’s not at all. At the start it annoyed me when I got criticism. Now the past couple of years I don’t waste my time worrying about what people think about me. Everyone has their two pennies’ worth and I’m in a position where people can have an opinion, so it’s my fault anyway!
“Under the pressure, everybody watching, after all the training, making weight, ring-walk, atmosphere? A normal geezer in a 9-5 job would struggle. I don’t criticise him in his job. But he’s a paying pundit so he has the right.”
🗣Did anyone mention the Stadium of Light?😉@JOSHPBK is happy to face @ConorNigel in the future and subtly mentions a possible venue… 😆
He is uncomfortable with the fame that comes with his occupation: “When I was a kid doing good things I got recognised, but social media amplifies it. You might be on holiday and someone comes over. Or you realise people have recognised you. Should I be eating this in front of people? Should I have a beer?”
At the heart of his burgeoning rivalry with Conor Benn is the back-and-forth accusation that the other prospect has had an easy ride.
Benn grew up wealthy while Kelly was raised in Sunderland to a working class family. Benn believes he had to fight to prove himself but Kelly’s career is privileged because of his Olympic background.
But going to the 2016 Games in Rio was far from easy, and Kelly was no shoo-in. Two years earlier he broke a leg, and he was the last male boxer to qualify for Team GB.
“The people you compete against, just in Great Britain alone, to get there! High grade fighters,” Kelly said. “I was picked above them then fought in the qualifiers that had been changed that year to make them even harder. Then I boxed in the Olympics and was beaten by the eventual gold medallist.”
Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov has since been signed by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom but hasn’t exploded into the pro game like he may have hoped. Kelly vs Yeleussinov is another big future fight.
Kelly insists his Olympic route has prepared him for pro success: “Being battle-hardened is definitely the best way. You fight four or five times day to day against Cubans, Russians, Kazakhs, making weight every day. It’s a different mental challenge. But I’ve seen good amateurs not make it as a professional. But if your style is more suited to the pros then turn over and get onto small hall shows. It will be hard at first but the cream always rises to the top if you’re winning.”
Benn has accused long-term amateur boxers of losing the love for their sport. Kelly said: “In some cases, yes. But not in my case. As a professional it is a new sport, training for one fight at a time, the light at the end of the tunnel. Amateurs was like a four-year treadmill. Ask me to box without my time in the limelight for four years now? It would burn you out. The pro structure suits me.”
Conor Benn insists Josh Kelly’s unorthodox style of “chilling” and “relaxing” wouldn’t work if they shared a ring.
The undefeated domestic welterweight rivals could be on a collision course and Benn expects them to fight for the British title.
Benn told The Boxing Show on Sky Sports about Kelly: “Styles make fights, and we’re polar opposites in the way that we conduct ourselves and the way that we get in the ring.
BENN QUIZZES NELSON🤔
On this week's The Boxing Show @ConorNigel turned the tables on @SkyJohnnyNelson and asked him for a progress report 🎓🥊 pic.twitter.com/w8qaR1Cyd3
“I mean business. I’m down to business. I ain’t chilling. I ain’t relaxing. I ain’t showing no flashy moves.
“That’s the difference between me and him.
“All of those flashy moves are with someone who ain’t coming to stick it on him. I’d stick it straight on him.”
Kelly’s next fight is expected to be a rescheduled European title challenge against David Avanesyan.
Benn explained his hopes: “You can’t plan anything in boxing but I’d win the British title, take out Chris Jenkins or Johnny Garton. We offered to fight Garton but he didn’t want it. We were offered Jenkins and we said yes. Now they’re fighting each other.
“I’ll take the British title.
“Kelly vs Avanesyan? I think Kelly loses. Then we’ve got a big domestic fight for the British title.”
🥄"I AM SILVER SPOON!"🤣@ConorNigel told the #SkyBoxingShow he's already twice questioned his future in the sport… but come out the other side stronger💪 pic.twitter.com/iUgwr4Uw6N
Benn admitted that following in the footsteps of his father, the British boxing legend Nigel Benn, almost came to an abrupt end.
“Twice! My second fight, in Glasgow, I’ve gone back to the dressing room crying,” Benn said. “Bawling my eyes out.
“I said: ‘Dad, this ain’t for me, mate’.
“‘Maybe I am silver-spooned, dad!’
“Somehow I fought back but after the first fight with Cedrick Peynaud I thought I was done. I thought I was finished. I thought: ‘This is it, I can’t do it’.”
Benn was on the floor twice in the first round against Peynaud, a fight he was expected to win comfortably. He persevered to win then beat Peynaud convincingly in a second fight.
“It’s just learning, character building and perspective.
“I learned so much. How I came back would determine everything. We had the rematch and I did a number on him.
“I didn’t have to rematch him. What did I gain? Nothing. But it’s what I wanted to do.”
"I felt like I needed to carve something out myself"
Why @ConorNigel gave up a life of comfort… and what he learned by his father's failed comeback
Benn explained how he has matured: “I used to be nervous thinking: ‘Is this a boring fight? Am I living up to the name?’
“Now, 16 fights in and I know that I’m an entertaining fighter.
“I’ll have many hard fights in my career – I have that style and that vulnerability. There will be ups and downs, hard fights that should be easy, and easy fights that should be hard.
“Will I take a few losses? I’d be silly to think not.
“It’s a rollercoaster journey and that’s where I show that I’m a fighter. If I fall I will bounce back.
“I have always felt the pressure. Having the 0 and being undefeated brings pressure. My dad said that having the 0 means nothing.
NBA owners and team representatives may have left Tuesday’s video conference with Commissioner Adam Silver feeling a sense of optimism that the 2019-20 season will resume.
But the league is not projecting that optimism. Nor is it projecting pessimism. What Silver said a month ago remains true: “I don’t mean to send any signals about the likelihood or not of restarting the season.”
There is a daily tug of war – not only in sports and the NBA but throughout the country – between optimism and pessimism with realism playing a crucial role.
On the call, Silver addressed particulars of a return, including the possibility of a bubble site or city and said teams and players should get used to the idea of continuing play after a positive test or they shouldn’t be going down this path to a restart, but he did not indicate a return was imminent.
While the NBA is eager to resume the season, there is still much to learn and much to decide in the next 2-4 weeks before a decision can be made. (Photo: Brynn Anderson, AP)
Silver – casual in a button-down shirt with no tie on the video call – delivered a Powerpoint presentation detailing what the NBA is following that will help guide the decision to return or cancel the remainder of the season:
Public perception of risk as states reopen.
Lessons from other sports (watching Bundesliga and Korean baseball league and maybe even Major League Baseball).
Extent of impact on player salaries as the league deducts 25% from each paycheck beginning May 15.
Testing type and availability.
All of those factors will be considered as the league looks to make a decision in the next 2-4 weeks, although it could be longer.
Nationwide testing is not yet adequate, though the NBA can likely procure enough testing kits, and the trajectory of cases isn’t declining everywhere.
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Take Clark County, Nevada where the NBA could resume play in Las Vegas. In the past month, confirmed cases increased from 2,500 to 4,900, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. In the past week, there have been 400 new confirmed cases.
However, in Orange County, Florida – the site of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex where NBA games could be played – there have been approximately 500 new confirmed cases in the past month, going from 949 to 1,500. But after no more than 19 cases in a single day through the first 10 days of May, there were 34 new confirmed cases on Tuesday.
Some coronavirus data suggests the national curve is flattening, and one model projected daily deaths falling to 100 or less by August.
It's just as easy to envision a scenario in which NBA games are played as it to envision a scenario where there is no conclusion to this season.
"These are some of the hurdles that we have to work through if we want to open up and do so safely," said former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy who is advising the NBA. "Do I think we can overcome these hurdles? Yes, I do. We can do better testing, we can bring our caseload down more aggressively following public health guidance.
"We can build out the capacities that our health departments need to contract trace and isolate so that if we do find more cases that we can contain them before they spread too far. We can do these things. But we haven’t gotten there yet and that’s what concerns me."
Yet, he also sees a pathway to games as long as risks are reduced.
"I don’t think we have to wait until we have a vaccine to bring sports back in a limited capacity," Murthy said. "But I also don’t think there’s a scenario where we can completely eliminate risks. If we play a game without fans in the stadium, we can lower the risk of transmission that we know is facilitated by crowds.
"If we are testing players regularly and also asking them to follow social distancing rules and limit their contact outside in the community, then we can further the risks of an outbreak. If we’re playing our games in communities that have sound public health measures in places and low prevalence of infection, then they further reduce the chances of an outbreak."
Three NBA agents with whom USA TODAY Sports granted anonymity so they could speak freely had differing thoughts.
“The players I work with are taking this seriously, and they are trying to find out the information,” one agent said. “They wonder, ‘How are you going to start playing when we still have social distancing?’ No players I’m speaking with are thinking, 'We’re trying to come back.’ ”
The National Basketball Players Association also indicated in a memo to agents that players wanted to resume this season only “if it were safe to do so," and in an informal poll, players overwhelmingly told the NBPA they want to return.
“My vibe is the influential players want their money, and they’re going to make the call,” another agent said. “The players are trying to have it both ways. They’re criticizing ownership for putting them out there and risking their health. But they also want to play and get their money.”
Can the NBA and players recoup some lost revenue from a suspended season? Or will maximizing health and financial earnings become mutually exclusive? Based on various conversations with team executives and agents, it appears all sides are willing to dip their toe into the pool while remaining cautious about jumping into the water.
While the gradual opening of NBA practice facilities to a max of four players at time is minor progress, some haven't opened, and the Toronto Raptors have allowed just one player in a time.
“I don’t know too many players that are super concerned,” a third agent said. “I don’t think anyone is thinking, ‘I don’t want to go to the facility because I’m going to get sick.’ ”
As for playing in actual games, though? That appears to be a different story. The NBA and NBPA have discussed various scenarios on where and when to resume games without fans.
For example, a plan to play in Las Vegas includes the following details, according to a person familiar with the league’s thinking:
Games could be played at various venues, including T-Mobile Arena, Thomas & Mack Center, Cox Pavilion and casino convention centers.
Teams could practice at those venues as well as at high schools.
Teams could stay at five or six hotels closed to the general public to maximize the ability to follow social distancing rules and sanitary practices.
Still, skepticism remains.
“I don’t understand how they’re going to be able to do this,” one of the agents said. “It sounds good that they can play in a bubble. But what if one player gets exposed? Are you going to shut the season down again? The theory sounds great and sounds terrific, but real life sometimes gets in the way."
Since the NBA suspended its season on March 11, it has had the benefit of time. But with time becoming more crucial by the day, the window to make a decision is closing. That’s why the next month is so important as it tracks the latest COVID-19 developments in and outside of sports.