COVID-19 has placed much of the world into a holding pattern. With players from different states interacting and playing in close quarters with one another, it was only a matter of time before the Coronavirus sent the world of basketball into unchartered territories.
March 11th, 2020 will be remembered in history books for two reasons. The first being that the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded the coronavirus from being an epidemic to a pandemic. The second being that the NBA made the decision to indefinitely suspend the 2019 – 2020 season.
Earlier that day, with COVID fears surrounding the death tolls abroad making it onto our home court, the league office and owners held a meeting in which a season suspension or modifications, such as playing to an empty arena, were discussed. However, for that specific day, games were to be played in a traditional manner.
The Game to End All Games
On the evening of the 11th, the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder were set to tip off to a full arena. After the teams completed warm ups, the referees began to have what appeared to be a serious huddle on the court including Utah coach Quinn Snyder and Oklahoma’s Billy Donovan.
As the players, coaches, and referees left the floor fans and viewers at home were left wondering what was going on. Soon after, the announcer stated that tonight’s game has been postponed. Minutes later, in an unprecedented move that caused ripples across the sports world, the NBA released a statement announcing the season would be suspended indefinitely.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, tested positive for the Coronavirus, consequently becoming patient zero and making the NBAs worst nightmare a reality. A highly contagious virus is bound to spread like wildfire in a sport that calls for close physical contact and constant travel.
Sports across the board have the potential to bring people from all walks of life together. They also can provide a momentary distraction from things going on in the real world. However, back in March it was hard to ignore the unknown course of the novel Coronavirus. As a long-time NBA fan, it felt surreal watching the game play continue at first. Nonetheless, looking back, the suspension of the NBA season made me feel as if we were all in this together.
Well, what happened next?
League officials initially halted games for 30 days to assess if there was a safe path forward with the rest of the season. One of the glaring issues was the roughly one month of regular season games left to be played prior to the start of the play-offs.
Already missing key players such as Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Pelican No.1 draft pick Zion Williams due to injury this season, I wondered if the NBA could maintain it’s usual sense of novelty in the face of the pandemic.
The infectious nature of the coronavirus proved a problem to league officials as they discussed various ways to continue forward with the 2020-2021 season. Eventually, the league came to the conclusion that there was only one option to safely finish the season, isolation with strict testing protocols in place.
What is the Bubble?
The bubble referred to the tightly regulated conditions and confines of Walt Disney World that NBA players and staffers lived in for the rest of their season.
All 22 NBA teams including staffers, coaches, and players entered the bubble with the possibility of not leaving for 3 months if they made it to the NBA finals. Taking into consideration the length of time the teams would be in the bubble, the league paid a great amount of attention to detail in an effort to add in amenities such as a barbershop, manicurist, and entertainment.
Inside the Bubble
The NBA released a 100 page safety plan covering protocols for if a player tests positive to how players were to be onboarded once arriving at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Upon arrival, players, reporters, and attendees quarantined for 48 hours and had two consecutive COVID tests. Many players during that time took to social media to document their meals with several citing complaints which were quickly fixed once the initial quarantine ended. Teams were allowed to bring in outside guests once play-offs began and were able to reserve 17 rooms.
Individuals on campus were required to wear disney-magic bands at all times for access to security check-points, health screenings, and check ins for coronavirus testing. The magic bands, which include a micro-chip, were originally created to allow access to rides and other park perks. However, the bands were re-programmed specifically for NBA use and prevented those on campus from accessing entrances if you failed to complete your daily health evaluation in their designated app.
The Bubble Almost Pops
Although game-play finished without a single positive case among players, it’s not to say the NBA season finished without a hitch. While NBA players are among the highest achieving athletes in the world, they are still human and thus are susceptible to the same stressors we are. Adjusting to campus life, and being isolated from their loved ones, some players such as LA Clipper’s Forward Paul George understandably found it difficult to continue game-play as usual. Players were not only dealing with isolation, an ongoing pandemic, but also the reverberating high profile deaths of multiple unarmed black individuals at the hands of police.
While the bubble managed to keep the novel coronavirus out, the season was abruptly brought to a halt due to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. After the shooting occurred, the Milwaulke Bucks and Orlando Magic refused to play, leading to a temporary league wide strike .With 81% of the NBA identifying as black, I was inspired by the players coming together and making it known that the fight for racial justice is bigger than basketball.
While I was content to have the second half of the season to focus on, it felt surreal to have gameplay continue amidst the pandemic. Nevertheless, after overcoming so much adversity to finish the season, it was uplifting to see the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate their NBA finals win. As the league will enter the first half of the regular 2020-2021 season on December 22nd, on the heels of Coronavirus vaccine approval, they intend to begin game play in their home markets. However, with 48 players testing positive as of December 2nd during the initial home market testing phase, one can only wonder if this return to new normalcy will last.
In a world where we all have so many more questions than answers, all we can do is wait and catch the rebound. One thing we can be sure of, is that the power of the NBA is undeniable.