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Whicker: NBA should ponder becoming the game of summer – OCRegister

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Forget the fact that we can’t tell Monday from Saturday anymore.

What month is it?

The familiar pages of our calendar are tumbling down empty streets because of the coronavirus pandemic. There is no rush hour, no lunch break, no church service, no Taco Tuesday to define the week. There are no sports to define the month. Our slate is unbearably clean.

Given this vacuum, there will be a full box of suggestions, most of them ill-designed and blasphemous.

The concept of playing a Christmas World Series at a neutral site is a hard slap to the fan base and a disadvantage to teams who have tailored themselves to play in those parks (although it would be much more difficult to smuggle in a trash can).

The proposal to stop the NHL standings in their tracks and go right to the Stanley Cup playoffs lacks a key component – fairness.

And then there’s the NBA, the brainiest operation in American sports.

Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin recently told an analytics conference that the NBA’s schedule is all wrong. The traditional October start and spring finish goes back to a time when the NBA had eight teams, rode the rails from Syracuse to Fort Wayne, and didn’t dream of competing with the NFL and Major League Baseball.

But now the NBA has the highest-profile athletes who play in America. Koonin says the product is so glittery that it should play its championship on its own private stage. He wants a December start and an August playoff.

It makes sense, especially with the Olympics postponed until 2021.

There is little reason for the NBA to sneak into the regular season on an October weeknight and clash with the MLB playoffs, college football and the NFL.  A mid-December start sets up the five-game Christmas showcase, and the All-Star Game could be in April for even more visibility.

Nothing else happens in August except NFL training camp. In Olympic years, maybe the NBA can wrap it up July 4 and send an unusually sharp team to beat up on the world.

NBA teams also would have better access to the arenas they share with NHL teams, who presumably would be all done.

But there’s a hidden benefit.

The NBA draft happens in late June. With an August finish, a top pick can sign and actually influence the playoffs, as a few have done in baseball and hockey. What if Zion Williamson jumped onto New Orleans’ roster with 12 games to go and with the Pelicans only three games out of eighth place?

Giving up the Summer League is a small price to pay for a month and a half of postseason dramatics in air conditioning.

This is only one example of the necessity to think outside the box, especially when the box is contaminated.

Last week, folks who had hotel rooms in Augusta, Ga., in the second week in October began receiving cancellations. Those rooms were then sent back into the market, with prices on steroids.

This, of course, indicated that the Masters had found a new date.

There might only be one leg of the Grand Slam this year. An October Masters would be played after the scheduled Ryder Cup, and would run up against the beginning of the next PGA Tour season.

But for those of us who have longed for a NASCAR-style “fall race” to go with the azalea-studded spring event, this just adds to the legend.

Campbell Vaughn is an agent with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. He said Wednesday that Augusta National might not be the same floral lollapalooza that we’ve known.

“They could have some tea olives blooming, and maybe some sasanqua camellias,” Vaughn said. “But the azaleas come and go in the spring.

“North of us, you see a lot of colors when the leaves turn. Augusta National has a lot of pines, so you won’t see that effect either.”

However, Augusta National is its own greenhouse. “That’s a botanical garden they’ve got over there,” said a fellow at an Augusta nursery. “You never know what they’ll do.”

It brings memories of Dick Vermeil, notoriously oblivious. He used to reach his Philadelphia Eagles’ office before sunrise and leave it well beyond sunset, when he left at all.

In 1982 there was an NFL players’ strike. Vermeil’s wife Carol took him on a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive, on the leafy Main Line.

Vermeil was startled. “Carol,” he asked, “what’s going with these trees? What are all these colors?”

“Dick, they do this every year,” Carol said. A few months later, Vermeil left the Eagles.

Now, nothing does anything every year, and the perennials have joined those calendar pages, gone with the same wind.

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