Sports fans are desperate. As the coronavirus pandemic has meandered through its second month, we've forced ourselves to be excited for remote games of HORSE, 10-part documentaries about a Chicago Bulls season that's already been covered exhaustively and video game versions of our heroes. Previously played games are plentiful, too, anytime, day or night, across your streaming service's dial.
There's been plenty of sports-lite, but very little of the real thing. Thursday afternoon, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban detailed how he thinks the real thing might come back.
Cuban's Mavericks are basically shut down for the time being. The NBA has allowed players to return to practice facilities, but there's a catch.
"Only one player at a time (can be on the practice floor)," Cuban said on a video call with members of the Dallas City Council. "We can have one player at one basket and three staff. One coach, one rebounder, I guess, and somebody to wipe up. It really hasn't been a step forward, and I'm good with that actually. If we just opened up fully, the message that we might send to high schools and middle schools (is) that it's OK to open up and start practicing again. That's a real concern of ours because we don't want to set a bad example in terms of people getting sick."
When games get back underway, Cuban said, he expects to follow the example set by some horse tracks and foreign professional sports leagues. Only personnel essential to staging games will be allowed to attend games, and the games will held at a small handful of neutral sites.
In order to be a good host, according to Cuban, a city will need to have the ability to host multiple games at one time and to allow athletes and team employees to enter a de-facto quarantine at nearby hotels.
"We'll keep players, essential personnel and some family there," he said, "and we'll test them going in. The key is they can't leave. Those tests are only for one point in time. Who knows what causes you to catch it and then, if all the sudden you were negative and now you're positive, it's a disaster. We're trying to create a safe environment that's quarantined so that we can play games."
Sports are important for North Texas' psyche, Cuban said.
"We need sports. We need it bad, especially in North Texas," Cuban said. "I think our initial games will be played with no fans and that's OK. Watching a Mavs game on television, watching a Rangers (game), Cowboys (game), a Stars (game), whatever it may be — just being able to give everybody something to root for while we're at home, to cheer for to get excited about, I think that's definitely our goal."
While players are expected to return to arenas and stadiums before their fans, the Mavericks are exploring how they can get butts in the seats and watching Luka Doncic as soon as possible.
"Who knows when (fans are going to allowed back at games), and who knows what the rules are going to be, but we're looking at every possible to option to sanitize and sterilize and keep everything safe," Cuban said.
Those options include reducing physical contact points with fixtures at the American Airlines Center, potentially through the use of voice controls, Cuban said.
Cuban said that he was hesitant to try one idea that's been bandied about — checking the temperatures of all those hoping to get in to the arena — because someone could knock their fever down with some Tylenol and then attend a game anyway. If someone really wants to go to a game or go to work, he said, they could compromise whatever efforts have been made to keep everyone safe.
"All the sudden that whole system's dead, and you've got a real problem on your hands," Cuban said.