Written by Antonio Vergara
You might have heard of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the league which saw the likes of superstars, from Micheal Jordan to Kobe Bryant, compete. It is also one of the wealthiest sports leagues in the world in terms of revenue, generating $8.76 billion USD, solely in the 2018-2019 season. NBA seasons are exciting! Teams travel across the country to play games in packed arenas, train in their practice facilities, and go home to their loved ones to rest. This is all done in an effort to win the sport’s biggest prize, The Larry O’Brien Trophy.
This was not the case for the 2020 NBA season. Last year, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, the NBA season, like many other activities and events, was forced to a halt. We can all remember those first few months of lockdown and how drastically they disrupted our lives. However, this was far more evident in the lives of basketball players, as their season was abruptly suspended in the middle of March, an important month for playoff qualification. The association’s board of directors initially suspended the season for thirty days, allowing them time to discuss creative solutions so as to resume the season. A frightening alternative involved the extreme measure to cancel it altogether: this would have represented a substantial financial loss and long periods of inactivity for the athletes. After thorough meetings with the 32 teams, the NBA decided that it would continue the season in the so-called ‘NBA Bubble’, an isolation zone in Disney World near Orlando, Florida.
Initially, there were mixed reactions from several players as the unprecedented concept of the Bubble required a strong sense of commitment, adaptation, and regulation. Nevertheless, higher ranking teams were eligible and thus made the decision to join. The Bubble protocol consisted of six phases:
- Phase 1 – Players fly back to their teams’ respective cities if on away trips
- Phase 2 – Everyone is tested for Covid-19 every other day for a week
- Phase 3 – Mandatory individual workouts and medical exams in teams’ practice facilities
- Phase 4 – Teams travel to Disney World to quarantine and begin practices
- Phase 5 – Teams play practice games among themselves
- Phase 6 – The regular season continues, leading to playoffs and final
This way of life was a big change to the game of basketball in general; no fans were present at games, teams could not leave the isolation zone, and each player had to undergo daily Covid-19 tests to assess their health. A 100-page rule book was made with the strict guidelines the players had to follow, in addition to the tracking devices they wore on their wrists at all times. The NBA even provided an anonymous hotline so players could essentially snitch on other players who were not following the rules.
However, the Bubble also had many upsides. Although, the Disney resorts already had numerous facilities installed for the players to use, including pools, restaurants, spa services, golf courses, gaming areas, barber shops, bowling alleys, etc. It was essentially a mini city. It was also a bonding experience for many players, enabling them to to interact more closely with other teams, enhancing the sense of comradery among NBA players (often portrayed by the media as rivals. Several players like JaVale McGee of the Los Angeles Lakers and Matisse Thybulle of the Philadelphia 76ers even vlogged their experiences and shared them with the world through their YouTube channel – I enjoyed watching these). In addition, being away from the distractions of their regular lives allowed the players to focus entirely on the game of basketball and train for extended hours. The nationally-transmitted games provided an outlet for players to speak up and wear jerseys with messages in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement, which occurred concurrently with the Bubble.
In the end, the Los Angeles Lakers won the whole thing after defeating the Miami Heat in the Finals. The players, coaches, and staff all gave positive comments on the organization and outcome of the Bubble, which resulted in zero positive Covid-19 cases. The 2019-2020 NBA season truly was one-of-a-kind. Although it is now in the books, we may look forward to the playoffs of the 2021 season as we see a slow return to normality.