National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver said the league's new regular season would not start until 2021, with late January as the possible target.
Silver spoke at the Citizen by CNN conference along with White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. Silver listened to the the nation's leading infectious disease expert before commenting on the new season. Fauci warned of disturbing data around increasing Covid-19 cases as concerns about another spike in the fall and winter intensify.
"The more I'm learning and listening to Dr. Fauci this morning," Silver said, "I continue to believe that we would be better off getting into January." He added the NBA wants to play a standard 82-game season in "home arenas in front of fans."
Silver's comments put an end to the idea of starting games on Christmas Day. The NBA discussed starting in December and other formatting changes to its schedule, including less travel with back-to-back games in the same cities against the same team.
"But there is still a lot that we need to learn in terms of rapid testing, for example, [if] would that be a means for getting fans into our building," Silver said.
The league would need approval from the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) before determining a start date. Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes said concern for players currently playing will factor into when to start a new season.
"The most important factor in that is making sure guys who are finishing in the playoffs, or a deep playoff run, have enough time to rest and recover because, as we've seen, it a better product when everyone is healthy," Barnes told CNBC.
The NBA is currently holding its conference finals series with four teams remaining in the NBA's postseason bubble in Orlando. Barnes said another factor would be the "setup" of next season and if the league would need to participate in another bubble.
"That will carry more weight into when we start," he said.
Silver said the league is learning from other sports, including Major League Baseball and the National Football League, as the NBA wants to utilize "new information" about Covid-19 to bring back spectators.
In an email to CNBC, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban echoed Silver's comments when asked about a possible start date.
"There is no reason to rush," Cuban said. "Every day, we get closer to a vaccine and more informed on best practices, so time is our ally."
Starting a new season in January could also put the NBA up against next year's 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was rescheduled to summer 2021 due to Covid-19.
Silver hinted the U.S. men's national basketball team could proceed without top NBA stars if the league's season is still ongoing. "We may be up against the scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren't competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing," he said.
The NBA commissioner also discussed the league's stance on social injustice and its decision to use its Disney bubble as a platform to spread awareness about injustices and social inequalities for Black people.
Silver said the league and NBPA would discuss ways to incorporate social injustice initiatives in the future but added the NBA's customized bubble jerseys and Black Lives Matter banner placed on the courts would discontinue.
"I think at some point – for us to most effective, there has to be a return to a certain normalcy and then for us to move into new channels," Silver said.