What would happen if the NBA canceled the 2019-20 season?

nba 2019/20 season

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the faction of NBA players who are against resuming the 2019-20 season. Some players are understandably worried that restarting play will shift attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement (in addition to their concerns about COVID-19, the injury risk and the “bubble” restrictions).

There’s also some concern in NBA circles about the alarming number of new coronavirus cases popping up in Florida, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Zach Lowe.

Hypothetically speaking, what would happen if the NBA had to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs (either because players refused to suit up or due to the health risks)? What short-term and long-term consequences may arise as a result of this decision?


If the season gets canceled, players would lose $1.2 billion in salary (or 35 percent of their total pay), according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Also, the NBA would lose $2 billion in revenue, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks. NBA agents have been delivering “stern warnings” to their players recently, explaining “the financial implications of a lost season,” writes Wojnarowski.

This $2 billion drop in league revenue would have a significant effect on the NBA’s salary cap. Before this Orlando plan came together, experts like John Hollinger and Danny LeRoux of The Athletic estimated that a canceled regular season could lead to an $8 million dip in the cap (as HoopsHype outlined). But if the NBA playoffs were canceled as well, the cap could decrease by more than $10 million (with some estimating a dip of approximately $15 million).

Not only would this hurt every single NBA team, this would negatively impact any player who’s set to hit free agency in the near future (or anyone whose salary is based on a percentage of the cap).

When NBA veteran Ed Davis spoke to HoopsHype this week, he was concerned about how much money players would lose if the season was canceled due to players sitting out. He argued that players could make a bigger impact in terms of social reform if they get paid and each donate a portion of their salary.

“With where we’re at as a Black culture and how we’re so far behind when it comes to black people and the wealth we have, us missing the rest of this season (and possibly next year), we’re talking about billions and billions of dollars for the black community because a lot of guys in the NBA are black men from the inner cities and things like that,” Davis said. “[W]e can take that money – those billions and billions of dollars – that we’re going to make and pour it back in the community. You can look at it like that – that us losing out on that money would hurt generations of [our] people.”

If a player chooses to sit out when their team resumes play next month, he can’t be punished. However, “they will lose payment on games missed – 1/92nd of the money owed to them,” according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Wojnarowski.

If players want to sit out due to a medical issue, they will be evaluated by an independent panel of doctors that the NBA and NBPA put together. If the panel of doctors determine that the player’s medical condition puts them in a “higher-risk COVID-19 category,” they would be excused with pay, according to ESPN’s Shelburne and Wojnarowski.

If a number of stars decide to sit out, that’s when the NBA might start to worry. If a handful of Top-20 players refused to take the court, that would likely affect the on-court product and people would be even more likely to put an asterisk alongside the 2020 championship.

If players sat out, the owners would likely terminate the CBA and force another lockout.


As agents have warned their players, the long-term consequences of canceling the season could be even more severe than the short-term hit. If the NBA couldn’t resume play because the majority of players decided to sit out, there’s a strong possibility that the owners would terminate the current collective bargaining agreement and force a lockout. (If the cancellation was due to COVID-19, it seems unlikely that the owners would terminate the CBA).

Right now, the CBA is relatively player-friendly, but that could change if the season is canceled and the CBA is ripped up.

“Already, the NBA and NBPA have to negotiate a long list of financial and competitive items to account for the loss of revenue,” Wojnarowski wrote in a recent ESPN article. “But agents expect that the league would react to the cancellation of this season by blowing up the CBA, locking out the players and moving to implement a more unfavorable financial share of basketball-related income, which is now essentially a 50-50 split.”

If the owners terminate the CBA and force a lockout, that would likely put the 2020-21 season in jeopardy too.

“If we don’t play, I honestly think there’s a chance that we won’t play next year,” Davis said. “The guys that came before us put in so much work and it took so much to get to this point. To throw that down drain because of a quick, emotional decision? I just don’t think that’s a smart thing to do at all… If we take a stand and don’t play, we’re not going to benefit from that. We’re going to lose all the way around. It’s just not going to be good.”

If the 2020-21 season were to be canceled or even shortened, as Davis mentioned, players would lose even more money (potentially billions of dollars in salary).

If the season was canceled and owners forced a lockout by terminating the CBA, players would have to continue working out on their own since they wouldn’t be allowed to use their franchise’s facility or communicate with team staffers. It’s possible that players would be away from their teams for more than a year. Even in the best-case scenario (if the 2020-21 season starts on time), players would be on their own for nine months. After such a long break, there could be significantly more injuries and the on-court product could suffer once play resumes.


Some players have argued that if they don’t play in Orlando, they’d be missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make their voices heard on the biggest stage imaginable. If the NBA resumes the 2019-20 season next month, millions of people who are missing sports are expected to watch (even if they aren’t big basketball fans), giving players an enormous platform.

As Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated wrote recently: “This isn’t the NFL. This isn’t Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s NBA. The current NBA has stood beside players in their fight against racial injustice and police brutality. The league is listening, and players are in a unique position to let their voices be heard.

“What if Jesse Owens didn’t compete to win four gold medals during the 1936 Berlin Games and, in the process, crush Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy? What if Tommie Smith and John Carlos didn’t race during the 1968 Mexico Games or hold a black fist in the air? … What if NBA players decline to use their largest platform while playing for three months to voice their message against racial injustice and police brutality?”

Davis agreed that players should take advantage of the fact that millions of people around the world will be watching.

“I mean, this is really the only time that you’re going to get that [audience] and it’s the only time you’re going to get 22 teams together for seven weeks,” Davis said. “There’s some really great stuff that we can do for the world. I feel like all of us doing it together and working with the NBA and working with these owners, we can really help out. I hope that when we get down there, we can do that together… I think that we have so many resources through the NBA and working with the NBA, that’s how we’re gonna make things happen.”


When players (such as Irving and Howard) started speaking up about their concerns in recent weeks, quite a few fans immediately began expressing their frustration about the take. (It doesn’t help that Irving and Howard are polarizing players who already have many detractors.)

However, if fans freaked out at the mere suggestion of sitting out the season, imagine how they’d react if the season was indeed canceled? It wouldn’t be pretty.

During past lockouts, both sides have tried to shape the narrative and win over the public’s support. The same thing would likely happen if the season were canceled because players chose to sit out (especially if the CBA were terminated and there was a lockout). In this situation, the owners would seemingly have all of the leverage and could paint the players as the “bad guys,” blaming them for the cancellation (even though the players’ concerns are absolutely legitimate).

If the 2020-21 season was also canceled or shortened (since a new CBA would have to be negotiated and many of the same issues would still need to be resolved), fans would be even more upset. There’s always the fear that fans will lose interest if the NBA is out of sight, out of mind for a lengthy period of time.

Even if the two sides were able to negotiate a new CBA and start the 2020-21 season in December (which is the best-case scenario), that would still be nine months without basketball.

If the 2020-21 season was also in jeopardy, that could be a crushing blow to the league.

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