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David Pick - Teil 36

I'm going to be honest. This has been the hardest column I've ever had to draw up. Why? Because the narrative and information kept changing every couple of days as the governments around the world brainstormed with different ideas on how to potentially get the world back on track. But not just that - more importantly for us hoops consumers - how to revive basketball again.

The COVID-19 pandemic is NOT to be toyed with or taken lightheaded. Former NBA guard Sebastian Tailfair lost his mother and brother. Austin Tillman from Hapoel Gilboa-Galil had to bury his father. My wife’s great aunt passed away in Paris. We are fighting the hardest war possible - we don’t know where our enemy is coming from or his attack strategies. We all need to be extra cautious.

While many of us believe the 2019-2020 season is over, there are others that believe it can still be salvaged. Therefore, DESPITE countries like the Ukraine, Switzerland, Sweden, Slovakia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Denmark, Luxemburg, Iceland, Austria, Norway, Nederlands, Slovenia, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Serbia, France, Portugal, and the VTB regions pulling the curtain down on their season - Germany's Bundesliga, Israel's Winner League and Spain's Liga ACB - are toying with different scenarios and locations to execute a creative structure to bring the season all the way to the finish line.

But that isn't the craziest thing you'll read here. While scrolling through Twitter for random updates on anything that doesn't have to do with Michael Jordan's "The Last Dance" Documentary (because it seems like that is the only thing people are talking about these days), I saw the Taiwanese association LIVE streaming the Finals game of their season. This wasn't long ago, on April 30th. I quickly clicked on the link because where else can I find a LIVE basketball at this time, right?!

So here's some information on what was going on: While countries across Europe have counted hundreds of thousands of casualties, Taiwan, an island of 36,000 square kilometers, 24 million inhabitants and only 130 kilometers from China, has only reported five deaths and 339 cases of COVID-19. WHAT THE FUCK?!?!

Taiwan's Super Basketball League (SBL), founded in 2003, hasn't killed its season. The 2019-20 season consisted of just five teams (Taiwan Beer, Yulon Luxgen, Pauian, Bank of Taiwan and Jutai Technology) with a total of 32 games before the postseason. So one of the teams in the finals had the funniest lineup, and it's most popular player is former NBA big man Sim Bhullar, the first Indian to debut in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings in 2015. He is the tallest dude in the league, and at 2.28 meters also the biggest giant across the land. His teammate is Marcus Keene - known as the smallest player in the league, standing a mere 1.75 meters point guard and the 2nd-best scorer with 24.8 points per game.

Back to our reality. The three aforementioned leagues have made public their vision to revive their league and finish the season. While the NBA is mulling over the idea of returning to action in Las Vegas or at the Walt Disney World Resort property in Orlando, the Israeli Association wishes to play in the remote city of Eilat on the border on Egypt and have all 12 teams, staff, officials, and scorer's table personnel quarantined for roughly three weeks. No fans at all in any games. Everyone will be tested daily for COVID-19. Anyone tested positive forfeits his rights to continue the season.

Until the COVID outbreak, Maccabi Tel Aviv was breezing through a fantastic season, it's best in international competition since David Blatt's 2014 Euroleague-winning team was separated and he made the jump to coach LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Maccabi was ranked 1st in the domestic league, and recorded impressive Ws over reigning Euro champs CSKA Moscow, Finalist Anadolu Efes, Barcelona and others in the Euroleague. Maccabi was also on the verge of securing home court advantage for the playoffs, and it felt VERY comfortable of it's chances to make the Final Four and perhaps reclaim its throne as Euro Champs, again. But then, coronavirus struck and shattered those dreams and aspirations (for now). Head coach Giannis Sferopoulos elected to remain in Israel rather returning home to Greece with his family, and has spoken out about the situation: "I hope we are able to resume action and finish the season. We miss basketball, I love the pressure, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and it makes me work hard.” Othello Hunter and Sandy Cohen also remained in Israel with their families. Sek Henry and Joe Alexander and other imports that are still here, because Israel is now a safer place than the U.S.

Pini Gershon, a legendary coach and winner of 3x Euroleague titles, is now the General Manager of the Israeli Federation and oversees all the national teams and player development programs. "The less our players practice, and the more their bodies are inactive, the damage is greater and their conditioning worsens. There is no magical formula that will have players in game-ready shape IF and WHEN basketball resumes. It has to be a very slow and cautious process to avoid the risk of injuries. Nowadays, in a normal world, our top prospects wake up and go practice, then go to school, then return to practice again. The more you work on your craft, the better you get at what you're doing, whether that being a chef, a writer, a singer etc. We have "zoom" workouts for players with trainers and coaches. It's great for the time being, but I don't know how long this will last. Kids are like wild animals with endless energy, and you can't cage them forever."

Italian Legabasket President Gandini expressed his concerns with kicking off the 20-21 season behind closed doors: "Serie A has a turnover of around €110M. 50% is generated by thefour major clubs. The suspension of the league will cost us around €40M and they are going to increase if we will be forced to re-start next season behind closed doors".

CSKA Moscow lost their $4M partnership with Russian Air Mogul Aeroflot and will no longer have a charter plane. Maccabi Tel Aviv have been forced to reimburse 10,000 season ticket holders for the lost months without basketball, and that has been a serious hit to the club's piggy bank.

The Spanish ACB are pushing for a 12-team tournament if the season resumes. BC Andorra Sports Director Francesc Solana is speaking out with intentions of hosting all participating teams. "The feeling here is that we can have a good end to the season if the health authorities approve. Let’s see how things look towards the end of May. We are optimistic about the possibility we can play again in Andorra, with May 31st being the deadline to decide whether the ACB season resumes or is canceled."

The EuroLeague too, despite my loss of $300 on a non-refundable ticket to Cologne, is looking for arenas to host the season finale from July 4th to July 26th, with Athens (Greece), Kaunas (Lithuania) and Belgrade (Serbia) mentioned as suitors. "We have obligations to our partners, but also - and more importantly - we have obligations to our fans. We exist thanks to our fans, and if we can, we are obliged to give them what they love more than anything else," said CEO Jordi Bertomeu. "If the government and health authorities will allow us to play games, if we take all actions to ensure safety of all the participants in the competitions, then I am convinced that we must finish the season."

Last but no least, with the most significance to our readers - is the looming future of the BBL. I've been told by my great editor in chief Marcel Friederich to keep an open mind on the language of the article because by the time this edition is printed, league officials will have already ruled Yay or Nay for a season-ending tournament.

The idea is to continue the season in a tournament format with 10 teams at one location that is TBD (To Be Determined) on condition that all the health policies/regulations/requirements are met. The 10 teams that have confirmed participation are: Euroleague reps ALBA Berlin and FC Bayern Munich, MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg, HAKRO Merlins Crailsheim, EWE Baskets Oldenburg, RASTA Vechta, Brose Bamberg, BG Gottingen, Ratiopharm Ulm and Fraport Skyliners. The venue will be determined on Monday, May 4th, 2020.

One of the more interesting questions that has been raised and I've been dealing with as an agent are what will the rosters look like? A number of ACB teams that plan to participate in the season-ending tournament have interest in signing both of my centers Joe Alexander and Malik Dime, because of their Israeli and Senegal passports. Some German teams share the same concerns - Clubs like Bayreuth, Giessen or Wurzburg might see their players ink deals with Bamberg, Vechta or Frankfurt. Players’ contracts that can be expiring this month include Seiferth, Staiger, Breunig, Bryant, Brembly, Schaffartzik or Radosavljevic - ultimately wearing different uniforms.  Let’s see how this plays out real soon.






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