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NBA looks at Dec. 22 for start, fans eventually returning for next season

Fans celebrate on Oct. 11 in Los Angeles after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to win the championship. (AP file photo)

The NBA may be back before Christmas and fans could return to games at some point next season, if one plan considered by the league’s board of governors becomes reality.

The board is targeting a Dec. 22 start to what would be a season of 70 to 72 games, with the NBA Finals ending in June again as has been in the case for many years, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press Friday on condition of anonymity because no plan has been finalized.

There are other options, such as waiting until later in the season to begin play with the hope that more arenas would be able to have fans. But starting in December instead of mid-January or later could generate a difference of roughly $500 million in revenue, the person said.

Revenue projections for the league this season were missed by about $1.5 billion, the person said. The losses were the result of a combination of factors — the shutdown caused by the pandemic, the cancelation of 171 regular-season games, completing the season in a bubble at Walt Disney World without fans, the nearly $200 million price tag for operating that bubble and a yearlong rift with the Chinese government that saw NBA games not shown on state TV there.

No decisions have been finalized on next season and talks with the National Basketball Players Association remain ongoing on many matters, including the financial parameters for the coming year. Those talks would have to be concluded before any real decisions about next season are made.

But this plan, starting in December and ending in June, would get the 2021-22 season — virus-permitting — back to normal, with 82-game slates starting in October.

A pre-Christmas start for the upcoming season would mean the offseason for the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat would be almost absurdly short, since a Dec. 22 start date would mean teams would likely be starting training camps around the end of November. This season’s NBA Finals ended on Oct. 11.

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