Here’s what you need to know right now in the sports world:
NBA training camps are open
It was quick. Just 51 days ago, LeBron James and the Lakers beat the Miami Heat to win the 2019-20 title. Today, the shorter of the offseason seasons ended when the players made their way to their teams’ training camps. Some key things to know about what’s to come:
There is no bubble this time. The end of the 2019-2020 regular season and the playoffs took place in a tightly controlled and sequestered environment on the property of Disney World in Florida. The players refused to do this again, so this time everyone is in the wild. The camps, for the most part, take place in the teams’ home towns and matches will be played in their arenas. Players, coaches and staff will therefore board planes and stay in hotels when they travel across the United States for road games. The league allows teams to decide whether to allow a limited number of fans into their buildings, although in many cases that decision is out of their hands due to local government restrictions. The NBA is more or less following the NFL’s blueprint for playing a season during a pandemic, and it’s not going exactly as it should right now.
The framework of the season is fixed. Five days of individual training and media availability (mostly virtual) will take place prior to the start of full training on Sunday for most teams. The preseason games begin on December 11 and the regular season begins on December 22. The All-Star Break (without the game and other usual festivities) will take place from March 5-10. The regular season ends on May 16. A play-in tournament to decide each conference’s last two playoff spots will take place May 18-21. The actual playoffs begin on May 22, and a champion will be crowned on July 22 – one day before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
The schedule is still under construction. The plan is for each team to play 72 regular season games, but none of those have yet been officially scheduled. All we have at the moment are the pre-season dates. Most teams have three, but it can be as few as two and up to four. The NBA says the first half of the regular season schedule (until the all-star break) is coming soon. The second half will be released during the “last game” of the first half so the league can add any games that might be postponed earlier in the season.
The Raptors are in Tampa for the foreseeable future. The Canadian government would not allow them to play outside of Toronto. So, like the Before Times snowbirds, the team moved 2,000 kilometers south as winter sets in here. The camp is at Saint Leo University – a small liberal arts school about half an hour from Amalie Arena, where the Raptors will play their home games. Toronto’s preseason games are Dec. 12-14 in Charlotte and Dec. 18 against Miami.
The NHL is behind. There was hope to start the season on January 1, but this ship has sailed. Pierre LeBrun reported today that the league “still hopes to drop the puck in early January,” but he feels the season could be further delayed. The main sticking point (plus, you know, coronavirus cases increasing across the continent) is that owners want players to give back even more money. As part of the back-to-the-ice deal last summer, players agreed to defer 10% of their salaries for this season and also allow up to 20% to be held in escrow (essentially insurance for the owners against the near-certain financial blow they will take this season). Reportedly, the league is now asking for a 26% deferral with the agreed escrow. Unsurprisingly, players aren’t happy with this. But it will have to be resolved before the NHL can move forward with a plan for a 2021 season.
The Toronto FC head coach has surprisingly resigned. Greg Vanney’s side just got excited in the first round of the playoffs and his contract is about to expire, but he’s expected to get an overtime. The 46-year-old American was the longest-serving and by far the most successful coach in the team’s history. He guided Toronto to an MLS Cup championship in 2017 and two more appearances in the title game, in 16 and 19. He won the MLS Coach of the Year award in 17 and was named runner-up this season after TFC finished with the second best league record despite having had to play almost all of their ‘home’ games in the United States due to coronavirus restrictions. Read more about Vanney’s departure from Toronto FC here.
The Ravens-Steelers game is now Wednesday. The Baltimore team-wide coronavirus outbreak has now caused the NFL to postpone this game three times – from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon through Tuesday night and now through Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. ET. This unusual weekday kick-off time is said to be due to the fact that NBC, which owns the broadcast rights, wants to show the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony at night. Yesterday marked the ninth day in a row that at least one Ravens player has tested positive, bringing the total number of Baltimore players who have tested positive or have been considered high-risk close contact to 22. Four Ravens were taken off the reserve / COVID-19 roster yesterday, but 20 have remained on it – including reigning NFL quarterback and MVP Lamar Jackson. He reportedly tested positive last week and will not play on Wednesday. Learn more about this logistical nightmare of a game here.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was closed for the remainder of the calendar year. The 18-team league has struggled to navigate the pandemic since opening its season in early October. Team-to-team outbreaks and restrictions imposed by the Quebec government have resulted in the postponement of many games in that province, and the dismantling of the so-called Atlantic bubble last week put an end to games in the Six-Party Division. Maritime teams. Now, the QMJHL has suspended all its activities until January 3. This obviously does not bode well for Canada’s two other major junior leagues – the WHL and OHL – which hope to kick off their seasons in January and February, respectively. Click here to learn more about the QMJHL shutdown.
Lewis Hamilton has tested positive for the coronavirus. He has already won his fourth consecutive Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship and the seventh of his career, tying Michael Schumacher’s all-time record. But the Mercedes star will miss the penultimate race of the season – this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain – after testing positive after his win on Sunday (also in Bahrain). The team said Hamilton was showing “mild symptoms” and was in isolation.
Did you know that Darth Vader participated in the Commonwealth Games? James Earl Jones voiced the iconic villain, but Star wars designer George Lucas wanted someone more physically imposing under the costume. So that role was played by Dave Prowse, a 6ft 6in actor / bodybuilder / weightlifter who represented England in the heavyweight division at the 1962 Commonwealth Games (he did not win a medal). If you’re wondering, Prowse isn’t the man you see when Vader’s mask was finally removed in the late 1983s. Return of the Jedi (he’s a different actor). Prowse died over the weekend at the age of 85. Mark Hamill, who played Vader’s son Luke Skywalker, called Prowse “a nice man and much more than Darth Vader.”
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