A few days later we all seemed to be amazed at the league, how little we thought about the fact that the only fans in the arena were virtual, sitting in the wrong seats and being displayed on giant screens around the pitch.
It was a bit disoriented at first sitting on the couch and watching live basketball at 1 p.m. ET on a weekday. However, for a basketball writer, there’s nothing more normal than basing your life on the NBA schedule. Most of my stories, especially at the start of the playoffs, could have been written in any other year.
The quality of the game was superb, and the constant flurry of games and storylines made it easy to dive deep into the bubble from a distance. In the seeding games, the Phoenix Suns were perfect, TJ Warren scored and Damian Lillard went wild. Luka Doncic had his first playoff moment in the first round, we all shouted “THERE” and Jamal Murray rose to a higher level, where he and Donovan Mitchell dueled spectacularly.
In the second round, OG Anunoby struck a miracle shot and the Denver Nuggets burst the Los Angeles Clippers’ bubble in a breathtaking and historic manner. In the conference finale, Anthony Davis hit the shot of a lifetime and Bam Adebayo ran straight through Daniel Theis to reach the largest stage in the game.
Only the Diehards will remember the pesky Brooklyn Nets and the weird, young San Antonio Spurs. However, Jimmy Butler’s performance in Game 3 of the NBA Finals was instantly legendary, and it became more meaningful when he reached the same level in Game 5. LeBron James had one more playoff run for the ages and when the Los Angeles Lakers raised the game trophy, the league was victorious too – they had pulled this thing off.
The health and safety protocols were working. More than a thousand people confiscated and sacrificed themselves so we could see a man who played the Division III ball at Williams College hit seven threes in a final game. And the NBA and NBPA funded a saliva-based coronavirus test that was approved by the FDA.
But I’m not sure what to do with the dissonance that comes with a professional basketball league deserving praise for protecting its employees from a deadly disease while watching the virus spread outside the bubble. Or,
: “It is a testament to human ingenuity and resilience how quickly we can reinvent things and get people back to work safely and effectively when a group of billionaires has a direct financial stake in making it happen.”
I was skeptical, but the NBA bubble actually worked. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and resilience how quickly we can reinvent things and get people back to work, safely and effectively, when a group of billionaires has a direct financial stake in making it happen.— James Hamblin (@jameshamblin) October 12, 2020
COVID-19 has killed more than 215,000 people in the United States. Before sitting down to finish this column, I read a New York David-Wallace Wells magazine story entitled “The Third Wave of the Pandemic is Here”. An additional 25,000 deaths were estimated before election day and 100,000 before the president’s next inauguration. It referred to a Washington Post Column where immunologist Rick Bright writes that he resigned from the National Institutes of Health “because the government actually prevented me from fighting the pandemic.” Bright warned that “the land is flying blind into what may be the darkest winter in modern history.”
In this dire context, it doesn’t feel right to view the Lakers championship as a triumph over adversity, although the players certainly have seen it that way. It doesn’t feel right to occupy the NBA as either https://twitter.com/zbinney_nflinj/status/1315479104611856384 or a beacon of hope, although it competently followed science and achieved an ambitious and difficult goal.
Since I was not in the bubble, I was reluctant to write on the subject at all. “You only really get it when you’re here,” said Chris Paul of The Washington PostBen Golliver, who has just left Florida himself. In Golliver’s farewell essay, he said he appreciated the NBA’s attention to detail, but he wouldn’t miss the bubble life. For everyone inside, physical isolation took a mental toll. Nobody wants to do that again.
Golliver also called daily testing “the ultimate privilege”. It was just that: a small population cocooned from the dangerous world around them.
I cannot directly relate to the experience of living on the “campus” for months, wearing a proximity alarm and ID, and covering every playoff game from one seat on the court. However, I am insanely privileged to be able to do my work from the comfort of my apartment during this pandemic.
This also makes me a clear beneficiary of the NBA’s decision to continue the season. And even if I weren’t a sports journalist, I’d be grateful if I’d spent these last few months thinking about basketball, talking about it, and getting excited about basketball again.
Other sports either create their own bubbles or put people at massive risk. Hours before the Lakers won the title, Rafael Nadal won the French Open. He said he was “super happy” with the win, but not as much as he would under normal circumstances. “The feeling is sadder than usual,” said Nadal days before after his game in the first round. “Maybe it has to feel like this. It must be sad. Many people in the world suffer. ”
Maybe what has to do with the dissonance is sitting with it.
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