The NBA can be considered one big tour: teams traveling across the US (and Canada) to visit some of the biggest cities and play games in front of big crowds. But just like any tour, the behind-the-scenes features a lot of tight schedules, long travel times, and minimal rest. Combine travel with practices and training, and NBA players can get very busy.
How often are NBA players away from home? NBA players are away from home quite often. In the regular season, half of a team’s games, 41 to be precise, are scheduled as away games at the opposing team’s home arena. Road games are often bunched together, so the team can be on the road for an extended period of days, even weeks. Teams may arrive one day before or leave one day after a road game to manage the disruptions caused to players with travel.
Why do NBA players spend so much time away from home?
The nature of the NBA schedule means that players are away from home a lot. 41 away games a season, spread across the US and Canada, means that NBA players are always on the move. It is not uncommon for players to travel 40,000+ miles throughout the course of the regular season. It is also simply not feasible to travel and show up to an away game right before tip-off; many cases find that teams show up at least one day before to get acclimated and get some rest. The same goes for the return trip: many teams do not leave right away once a game is over, but may leave the following day. By factoring in all the time required to prepare for an away game, it is safe to say that NBA players are away from home for over half of a regular season.
Do NBA teams get the equal amount of rest and travel?
The short answer is no, not all NBA teams get an equal amount of rest or travel. The NBA tries to schedule games fairly, but inevitably, some teams have to travel further than others, or spend more time away from home than others, and some teams also get more rest than others. The scheduling of games is something that is advantageous or disadvantageous to teams, and it is something that coaches, players, and staff have to consider in their planning.
Do NBA players travel to different countries for games?
Yes, NBA teams do find themselves having to travel overseas occasionally. 29 of the 30 NBA franchises are located in the continental 48 states of the USA, with one franchise, the Toronto Raptors, located in Canada. Thus every other franchise crosses the Canada-USA border once a season to play an away game at the Raptors home stadium, while the Raptors play all of their away games across the USA (and therefore are the team that plays “internationally” the most). The proximity of the city of Toronto to the rest of the US allows for games involving the Raptors to be appropriately scheduled in line with the rest of the games.
The NBA also schedules some preseason and regular season games to be played internationally, which may result in some NBA teams traveling internationally to participate in these games. Depending on the nature of the game, either one team travels (for exhibition games in the preseason) or two teams travel (for a regular-season game). Countries that have been visited for regular-season games include Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan, and France. Because these games are scheduled during the regular season, NBA teams are only in a different country for a short period of time (thus, these games are played in countries that aren’t relatively far from the US and Canada).
Are there any neutral NBA venues?
As of now, there are no neutral NBA venues that are in use. The closest thing to a “neutral” venue may be the Staples Center (now known as the Crypto.com arena), which is home to both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. While both teams technically share the arena, their head-to-head matchups include one team being designated the home team while the other is designated the away team, as is with all other NBA matchups. The nature of the situation means that players and staff do not have to travel away from home, which is advantageous.
Most notably, the NBA used neutral venues for the remainder of the 2019-2020 NBA regular season and NBA Playoffs. These venues were contained in a “bubble” in what was an extraordinary measure to protect players and staff against the COVID-19 pandemic. These neutral venues were located in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida (the traditional venue for the Orlando Magic was not used in the bubble, and were therefore the “host” team but not the “home” team). The “bubble” has since been disbanded and there are no plans to use it going forward.
What do NBA players have to say about all of the time spent away from home?
NBA players acknowledge that the traveling and time away from home is quite grueling, and definitely has a physical and mental wear on players. Some players do enjoy spending time in other cities, but many others rue the time that they miss with their family. The impact of all the travel is a factor for players when retiring; quite a few players consider retirement, especially once they have children who they want to spend time with.
Will the NBA ever reduce the amount of travel and time away from home that it requires of its players? The response is mixed: the NBA has acknowledged the negative effects of it and has made changes, such as scheduling less one-game road trips and giving more rest between games where possible. But there is a big spectacle when teams travel to opposing arenas, which brings in a lot of money to the NBA, and they won’t give that up. The key is to work towards finding the right balance that can satisfy the players, the teams, the NBA, and the fans.