Mark Cuban said he’s optimistic about the NBA season that is set to resume later this month — even as the number of COVID-19 cases is rising in many parts of the country.
“There’s obviously a risk, but each and every day the science improves and the medical response has gotten smarter,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said in a TIME 100 Talks discussion with senior sports correspondent Sean Gregory. The 2019-2020 season, which was suspended on March 11 after multiple players tested positive for COVID-19, is set to start on July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports located in the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. (Earlier, during the same TIME 100 Talks session, NBA commissioner Adam Silver couldn’t guarantee that the season would definitely happen. “[It’s] never ‘full steam no matter what,'” Silver said.)
Cuban says that as it kicks off, his biggest concern is players’ mental health. Teams will be on the resort grounds for an extended period of time in a so-called “bubble,” unable to leave the resort grounds and staying away from loved ones. “There are going to be so many restrictions that my bigger concern is just the mental health of the guys,” he said.
“If you’re going to the finals, that’s effectively four months — 114 give or take days — of sequestering. And I think that’s a bigger issue than the threat of rapid expansion or you know reaching some level of critical mass in cases in the surrounding area.”
But Cuban said there is a threshold at which the season would have to be reevaluated. “Working with Disney World, if they can’t keep their employees healthy, then I guess that would indicate that there’s enough of a significant spread that we may have issues in terms of how we continue or not,” Cuban said. Silver recently said that a “significant spread” of COVID-19 at the Disney World complex could cause a cancellation of the season, though the exactly threshold has not been defined.
Cuban also addressed concerns that the NBA is moving ahead with the season for monetary reasons, saying that making money “absolutely” a consideration, but not the only factor.
“I mean, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say that was had something to do with it,” he said. “You know, is it for the money? Yes, that’s a big part of it. Is it because our guys are professionals and they want to do their jobs like any other professional in any other industry? Yes, that’s a big part of it. Is it because we know that the American citizenry needs a distraction and wants something to root for and cheer for and that professional sports… can really play a big role and improve the mental health of this country? Yes, that plays a role in it as well.”
When the season does start, it will not only be in the middle of a pandemic but amidst nationwide protests over police brutality and a reckoning over a culture of systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
Cuban said he’d be “completely supportive” of any player who wanted to kneel during the national anthem before a game, an act of protest popularized by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick years ago. “If somebody wants to kneel, I’m fine with it. And most likely if I’m on the court — and doesn’t look like we’ll be able to as owners — but if I’m on the court, I’ll knee with them as well.”
This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.