Apr 13, 2020 - Sports

Taiwan's basketball bubble could preview the NBA's coronavirus return

Kendall Baker, author of Sports

One of the last Super Basketball League games before all games were moved to a smaller training center. Photo: Gene Wang/Getty Images

Taiwan's Super Basketball League is believed to be the world's only professional basketball league that is currently operational — a feat made possible by a swift response to coronavirus (six deaths in a country of 24 million people).

Why it matters: Despite being much smaller than the NBA (five teams compared to 30), the SBL's game-night protocols and empty arenas provide a glimpse of what NBA games might look like if conditions allow for its return this season.

The state of play: The SBL has relocated all of its games to the HaoYu Basketball Training Center and essentially built a bubble around it, ensuring that the building never has more than 100 occupants.

  • The only people allowed inside are teams, referees, scorer's table officials, camera operators, TV broadcasters and journalists. Many wear masks.
  • When they arrive at the door, players are "greeted by league officials who check their temperature with a forehead thermometer and record the information next to each player's name," writes NYT's Marc Stein.
  • "It is assumed that a confirmed coronavirus case in the league would lead to an immediate suspension of SBL play, but no COVID-19 testing is done on site. Any player with a temperature above 99.5°F is refused entry."

What they're saying: Former Duke guard Matt Jones scored 29 points on Thursday night to lead Bank of Taiwan to an 85-77 win over Taoyuan Pauian Archiland, led by former G League All-Star Charles Garcia.

"It feels like an adult league. ... The only noise is from your teammates. I don't even drink Red Bull, but I'm drinking Red Bull now before a game to find energy. When I get a dunk, you want to scream, but you can't. It's pointless. So I just run back on defense."
— Charles Garcia, via NYT

The big picture: While the NBA will certainly be keeping tabs on the SBL, it will be paying much closer attention to the 20-team Chinese Basketball Association, which provides a more comparable case study as it looks to resume play.

  • The CBA's season was set to resume two weeks ago after a three-month stoppage, but that has been delayed until late April or early May.
  • "It's starting to be normal over here in China," tweeted former NBA guard Pooh Jeter, who said he and his Fujian Sturgeons teammates have begun practicing five-on-five.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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  4. 2020: North Carolina asks RNC if convention will honor Trump's wish for no masks or social distancing.
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  6. 1 sports thing: NCAA outlines plan to get athletes back to campus.

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