What Happens if a Whole NBA Team Dies?

Jimmy Remland
By Jimmy Remland 6 Min Read
6 Min Read

Tragedy is an unwelcome specter that occasionally casts its shadow. While we celebrate the athleticism, teamwork, and sheer talent of NBA players, it’s essential to acknowledge that life can take unexpected turns. What if an entire NBA team faced an unthinkable catastrophe? What would happen if fate dealt a devastating blow, leaving an entire roster incapacitated? Let’s delve into this grim scenario and explore the contingency plans that professional basketball leagues have in place.

The Disaster Draft: A Last Resort


Since the advent of modern mass transportation, there have been accidents that claimed the lives of entire sports teams. The 1949 Torino Football Club, the 1956 Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810 crash involving two Canadian Football League teams, and the 1960 Cal Poly football team tragedy are haunting reminders of the fragility of life. In the NBA, the possibility of such a calamity is not merely theoretical; it’s a scenario that league officials have considered.

The NBA Contingency Plan

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has a disaster recovery plan known as the “disaster draft” or “contingency draft.” This plan kicks into action if five or more players on a team “die or are dismembered.” Here’s how it works:

  1. Triggering the Plan: When a catastrophic event affects an NBA team, such as a plane crash or other disaster, the league assesses the situation. If the loss of life or severe injury meets the criteria, the disaster draft comes into play.
  2. Draft Rules:
    • Player Protection: Each NBA team can protect only five players from their existing roster. These protected players are off-limits during the draft.
    • Available Players: The remaining players—those not protected—are eligible for selection.
    • Quality Sixth Men: The disaster draft aims to ensure that quality sixth men (players who excel coming off the bench) become available. These players could step up and contribute significantly to a team’s rebuilding process.
    • One Player Per Team: No more than one player can be drafted from any given team.
  3. Rebuilding the Roster: The affected team would then participate in the disaster draft, selecting players from the pool of available talent. The goal is to rebuild the roster swiftly and maintain competitive balance within the league.

The Human Element

While the disaster draft provides a practical framework, it overlooks the emotional toll on surviving players. Imagine the trauma and grief they would experience after losing teammates and friends. The surviving players might struggle to focus on basketball, affecting their performance. Additionally, the dynamics of a new team—composed of both survivors and drafted players—would be complex.

Historical Context

Thankfully, the NBA has never had to activate the disaster draft due to such a catastrophic event. However, it’s a somber reminder that sports, like life, can be unpredictable. The resilience of athletes and the support of fans would be crucial during such trying times.

Immediate Impact

The sudden loss of an entire NBA team would reverberate throughout the league and beyond. Here’s how various stakeholders would respond:

  1. The NBA Fraternity: Players, coaches, and team staff would be in shock. The camaraderie built over seasons would be shattered. The league would hold a moment of silence during games, honoring the fallen athletes.
  2. Fan Reactions: Fans would mourn collectively. Social media would overflow with tributes, memories, and heartfelt messages. The hashtag #RememberOurTeam would trend worldwide.
  3. Broadcasters and Sponsors: Networks broadcasting NBA games would face a dilemma. How do you cover a league when one team no longer exists? Sponsors would reevaluate their partnerships.

The Void in the Schedule

With an entire team gone, the NBA schedule would need immediate adjustments. Here’s how it might play out:

  1. Postponements: Games involving the affected team would be postponed indefinitely. The league would consult with other teams to reschedule matchups.
  2. Revised Standings: The standings would be recalculated, excluding the team that suffered the tragedy. Playoff seeding would change, affecting other teams’ paths to the championship.
  3. Player Redistribution: The remaining players would become free agents. Teams would scramble to sign them, leading to a mini free-agency frenzy.

The Draft Dilemma

The NBA Draft would face unprecedented challenges:

  1. Draft Order: The team that lost its roster would receive the top pick in the next draft. But how do you select players when your entire scouting department is grieving?
  2. Eligibility: The league might allow players from the affected team’s G League affiliate or international prospects to enter the draft. It would be a delicate balance between compassion and maintaining competitive fairness.

The Ripple Effect

Beyond the immediate aftermath, the NBA would grapple with long-term implications:

  1. Financial Fallout: The lost team’s revenue—ticket sales, merchandise, and TV deals—would vanish. The league would need to support the team’s employees and their families.
  2. Legacy and Memorials: The NBA would establish a memorial fund, scholarships, and community programs in honor of the fallen players. Their jerseys would be retired league-wide.
  3. Rule Changes: The disaster would prompt rule adjustments. Perhaps teams would be required to carry larger rosters or have emergency protocols for such scenarios.
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