Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
The strange 2020 NBA season culminated in LeBron James returning the Los Angeles Lakers to basketball prominence. Obviously, the NBA faced significant challenges to finish this season. We all know the league chose to pause in March during the Covid-19 outbreak, resulting in nearly four months without basketball. The NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver decided to create a bubble at Disney World to continue the season. To say the NBA bubble was a success is a massive understatement.
The Success of the NBA Bubble
It was widely known the only way for the NBA season to continue was to create a bubble. How that was going to look and the product that was going to be put on the court was a huge question mark.
What Teams Belong in the NBA Bubble?
Adam Silver invited 22 teams to the bubble. At first, it seemed strange to have nine teams from the East and 13 teams from the West. Essentially, any team within six games of the eighth seed was invited from each conference. The Phoenix Suns were the last team invited from the West and finished 8-0 in the bubble. Turns out, the decision to include anyone within six games was perfect as the Suns were six games out and missed out on the play-in game by the narrowest of margins.
The Bubble’s Structure
We knew there would be an eight-game warm-up before the season started but we didn’t know what the playoffs would look like. Silver decided to create a play-in game scenario where the nine seed would have to beat the eight seed twice in order to make the playoffs. The East was decided without a play-in game but the West saw the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Memphis Grizzlies and earn the eight seed. The play-in game was very competitive and added an extra layer of excitement to these NBA playoffs. While it is unclear if the play-in game is in the future plans of the NBA, it should certainly be considered.
The difficulty is the unequal balance of power between the East and the West. As mentioned, there were five extra teams invited from the West because they were so close to the eight seed. In such a deep conference, a play-in situation would be great. However, a play-in in the East would not be necessary as the lower seeds are generally significantly worse than the West.
The biggest key and most difficult aspect of the NBA bubble was keeping every person inside safe from Covid-19. That is infinitely more difficult than it sounds as more than 210,000 Americans have contracted the virus and died in just eight months.
The NBA essentially took over Disney’s Wide World of Sports and locked it down. They used three hotels to house the teams. The league had additional housing for staff and referees. They hired chefs to stay in the bubble and required daily testing for everyone inside. Amazingly, they even brought in barbers and had several activities for players to stay busy. As teams began to be eliminated the NBA even allowed players’ families to enter the bubble.
All of that to say, the NBA never had a positive test from anyone inside the NBA bubble for its entirety. Adam Silver and the entire group that set up this bubble deserves a massive round of applause. It is reported the NBA spent $150 million to set up and run this bubble and it was money well spent. To protect players, staff, and families the way they did and finish their season is remarkable given the status of the United States right now.
Focus on Social Justice
Not only did the NBA have to navigate Covid-19, but another virus, racism, was running rampant in the country. Players have a huge platform and they use it more than ever nowadays.
It became clear that the NBA players would not continue the season if social justice did not become a focal point. Chris Paul and the rest of the NBA Players Association did great work in creating a vessel for social change. However, they also received important support from Silver and most NBA owners.
The NBA navigated a strike by the Milwaukee Bucks and came out of it with some great steps to help the community in Milwaukee. Paul recently reported that 90% of NBA players are registered to vote. Perhaps, most importantly, several NBA teams, starting with the Atlanta Hawks, opened their arenas for voting. The progress made by the NBA on social justice reform while in the bubble is second to none.
The On-Court Product
Everything mentioned above was so important and necessary to continue the NBA season. However, if the product put on the court was poor, it would have been all-for-not.
Quite honestly, this was one of the best, if not the best, postseasons ever. It was incredibly competitive, skillful, and entertaining. There was plenty of concern that without fans the games would lack some passion. To say that was untrue is an understatement. We had superhuman performances by players like Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell, Jamal Murray, and LeBron James. We had nail biting games left and right. Similarly, teams like the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat announced their arrival to the main stage.
All-in-all, the culmination was a perfect product resulting in James securing his fourth NBA championship and honoring Kobe Bryant the only way they could. The NBA should be incredibly proud. What seemed like an impossible task turned into an electric postseason. Hopefully, a bubble will not be necessary next year, but if it is, the NBA has the blueprint.