The Chinese General Administration of Sport ordered the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) to delay its restart on Tuesday, a decision that doesn’t bode well for the return of other sports leagues across the globe.

Chinese Basketball Association delay
The Chinese Basketball Association aimed to start playing again by May, but a new order has postponed the league indefinitely. (Image: Xinhua)

The CBA had planned to return to play on April 15, then pushed that date back to May even prior to the government order. Officials haven’t provided a timetable for when play will resume.

CBA Recalled American Players Before Order

While the coronavirus pandemic began in China, the country has significantly reduced the spread of COVID-19, which has allowed the nation to begin moving back toward a sense of normalcy. However, ESPN cited sources who said that Chinese sports officials are concerned about the potential for asymptomatic carriers to reignite new outbreaks.

Even under the most optimistic projections, the CBA wasn’t planning for business as usual when it resumed. The league had planned to send its 20 teams to two cities, where they would play games in empty arenas for at least a month before considering holding games in front of live audiences.

Still, there had been signs that the CBA saw light at the end of the tunnel. Earlier this month, the league asked Americans who play in the CBA to return to China, where players like Lance Stephenson and Jeremy Lin have already begun serving their 14-day quarantine periods. Teams had also begun practicing, though it is unclear if that will continue now that the league has pushed back its schedule.

Even before the most recent announcement, there were signs that some players were growing frustrated with the delays.

“American players in China are starting to realize the league may not start,” one unnamed agent told NBC Sports. “We will likely see American players leaving China very soon.”

The CBA’s decisions on when to restart play could influence – or preview – the future of other sports leagues around the world.

NBA Season Hangs in the Balance

NBA officials have expressed interest in finishing out their season in some form over the summer. In one optimistic plan, teams will all complete at least 70 regular season games – which would fulfill some regional television network contracts – then a playoff tournament would take place at a single site, possibly in Las Vegas.

But even in a best-case scenario, league officials don’t expect play to resume until late June at the earliest. That would likely push the NBA Finals into late August or September, and after a modified offseason, force the next season to begin sometime around Christmas.

Unfortunately, even that scenario is beginning to look unrealistic, especially in light of the CBA’s issues. The US is at least a couple months behind China in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it appears likely that regional outbreaks could spring up at different times in various parts of the country. That’s why some in NBA circles are beginning to think that the season may simply be canceled.

“I’m not an expert, but I’d be surprised if the NBA plays again this season,” analyst Jeff Van Gundy told The New York Post last week. “It’s going to be hard to get it back going. I would suspect it will be very difficult. The good thing is I trust Adam Silver to do what’s right and best, and not what is in the best interest of money.”

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