NBA Bubble

In the middle of the summer, as many sports fans were eager to watch sports for the first time in 4 months, the NBA was able to resume their season through what became known as the “NBA bubble”. To many people, professional sports during a global pandemic seemed near to impossible. Numerous other professional sports leagues have tried to resume their seasons, such as the MLB and the NFL. However, both leagues have seen COVID cases spread through several organizations. The NBA, on the other hand, managed to come away from their restart with zero total COVID cases, showing the effectiveness of the “bubble” method. While having zero total COVID cases is shocking, should we really be surprised by this result?

No, we shouldn’t be surprised, the NBA took proper protocol, and compared to the other professional sports leagues, kept all of their players in one general location-Orlando, Florida. Hosted at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, players stayed at hotels within the complex. Teams that made deep runs into the playoffs were isolated in the bubble for more than 3 months. The concept of the bubble is simple: block out the outside world (thus the coronavirus), and isolate the players and NBA personnel in the bubble. However, having everyone in the same place does pose some risks, because if one person contracts COVID it will likely spread rapidly throughout the bubble. Of course, the risk will never be zero, but the NBA did everything they could to mitigate the risk. 

The possibility of being able to safely resume the NBA season and crowning a champion seemed very unlikely after the season shut down in March, but the NBA’s plan seemed logical and well thought out enough to allow them to resume. Everyone within the bubble was regularly tested, and teams were assigned to hotels based off of the seeding before the shutdown. Each player was given a wristband that had a built in proximity alarm that would go off when players were getting too close together and reminded them to keep their distance. There are 30 teams in the NBA, and 22 teams were invited to the bubble. All of the 22 teams that were invited had a chance to make the NBA playoffs prior to the shutdown, and the remaining 8 did not have a chance of making the playoffs. All 22 teams played an 8 game “regular season” that would determine which 16 teams would make the playoffs. During games, there was limited media allowed and no real fans. To compensate for this and try to create a real game like atmosphere, there were virtual fans broadcasted on screens. Many players and personnel had to leave their families and children, and be isolated from them for months. If they made it past the first round of the playoffs their team was able to reserve 17 rooms for the players’ families, and each player was able to have up to four guests come to the bubble. Each guest had to self quarantine for a week inside the bubble or for 3 days outside of the bubble and 4 days inside the bubble. They would then be tested every day, for 4 days. Having families in the bubble did not mean that they could all watch games in person. Each family was given one playoff ticket, and if a player had a younger child, he or she could also come alongside the family member. As you can see, the NBA took all proper protocols to make sure that COVID did not come into the bubble from the outside world. 

Before coming into the NBA bubbe, many players, such as Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, were very active in the civil rights protests that came after the unjust murder of George Floyd, Jaylen Brown even organized a peaceful protest in Atlanta for the Black Lives Matter movement. Once players arrived at the NBA Bubble, their movement for equality did not end there, as they used their platform to advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. Players were able to put a civil rights message of their choosing on the back of their jerseys. Some examples of these messages were: “Black Lives Matter”, “Justice”, and “Say Their Names”. Players also wore warmup shirts that said Black Lives Matter on them. This restart was about something bigger than sports, it was about using a large platform that attracts many viewers to make a change in society.

Overall, the NBA bubble was a great success, both on the court and in the context of promoting social justice. Players were able to safely resume the season and determine an NBA champion. Furthermore, players were able to effectively use their voices to advocate for and address the growing movement towards racial equity and justice in the United States and beyond.