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There will be no 2020-21 season for the National Basketball League (NBL) of Canada.
The league hoped to resume play on March 12, but a media release issued Friday explained that due to safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league’s board of directors made a difficult season to cancel the upcoming campaign.
“We’re extremely disappointed at not being able to get back on the court and play our 10th season as planned,” said deputy commissioner Audley Stephenson. “However, the safety of our fans, players and everyone associated with our game is paramount.”
Stephenson said the league hoped to see a significant difference in COVID-19 that would have allowed it to operate. He noted the continuing increase in cases, the rise of the new variants and the inability to have fans in venues made it difficult to proceed with a 2020-21 season.
The NBL of Canada features eight teams, including the Charlottetown-based Island Storm.
Storm owner Duncan Shaw told The Guardian during a phone interview on Friday morning that he understands the decision.
“Half of our team is in Ontario, and between travel restrictions, issues with people in the building, issues with getting players into the country, it’s just not there right now,” said Shaw. “Frankly, there are bigger issues in the world right now than going to a basketball game.
“We felt it wasn’t going to be there for quite some time, but you hold out some optimism that things are going to come around, but at a point, you look up to say, ‘Realistically, it’s just not happening this year.’”
“Half of our team is in Ontario, and between travel restrictions, issues with people in the building, issues with getting players into the country, it’s just not there right now. Frankly, there are bigger issues in the world right now than going to a basketball game. We felt it wasn’t going to be there for quite some time, but you hold out some optimism that things are going to come around, but at a point, you look up to say, ‘Realistically, it’s just not happening this year.’”
- Duncan Shaw
The media release went on to say that details regarding a start date and structure for the 2021-22 regular season will be announced at a later date.
Shaw said the Storm, which plays its games at Eastlink Centre, is waiting to see where things go from here. He said the organization will proceed with care and respect for the players.
“We won’t make a commitment that messes with someone’s life like signing a player until we are sure,” said Shaw. “That's how these guys pay their bills and take care of their families.
"We won’t go that far until we know there is a season, but we will certainly keep going down the road of getting organized and understand what we are going to do. We have been careful through all this not to overpromise to players and not to say something we could not stand behind.”
Stephenson expressed the league’s gratitude to fans for their patience and understanding.
“These are extremely difficult days for everyone,” said Stephenson. “Please stay healthy and safe, and we look forward to being to bring good news regarding next season."
Jason Simmonds is The Guardian's sports reporter.