How the NBA dealt with COVID-19
By Donté Kydd-Richmond
Article originally published in The Plant's November 2020 Issue
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBE via Getty Images
With the 2019-2020 NBA season complete, we finally have a chance to reflect on the league’s response to the virus that has sent the entire world reeling. After a long hiatus, which left everyone tuned into the basketball world anxiously anticipating word of its status, the NBA came back with a plan; “the bubble”.
The NBA bubble was an isolated zone for the players, coaches and personnel to reside in, allowing them to safely participate in a condensed set of games to end the season, followed by a full playoffs. Twenty-two of the thirty total NBA teams were invited and housed in separate Disney World hotels, and the games were held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Despite difficulties adjusting, the bubble proved to be the perfect solution to the question of how sports could continue with COVID-19.
The NBA bubble proved adaptable to the issues that arose. It was leaked and widely reported that the food players received was not of the best quality; the NBA heeded these concerns and brought in ten dedicated chefs, who were said to have cooked around four-thousand meals a week to ensure the players and staff were properly fed during their stay. Despite incidents such as Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams having to miss games due to spending time outside of the zone, the bubble did what it needed to do; zero positive tests were recorded for the bubble's duration.
The implementation of the bubble came amidst a time of turmoil. Coinciding with a surge in protest and unrest following the death of George Floyd, many players objected to the continuation of play, seeing it as a distraction from the larger fight against police brutality and institutional racism. Most notable among these was Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving. While several players did ultimately decide not to attend the remainder of the season (some not for reasons related to the social issues prominent at the time), the NBA was able to both show its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and encourage people to vote, through various advertising campaigns, multiple options for socially aware messages to be put on the back of players’ jerseys, and having “Black Lives Matter” painted across the court.
The NBA bubble, while of course not perfect, was evidently the best possible course of action the NBA could’ve taken; allowing for healthy players and staff, and a relatively smooth resumption of a widely missed form of entertainment. While the necessary adherence to strict regulations made for slightly less riveting playoff basketball, the league did the best it could with the options available. In doing so, the league set an example for other sports associations. With several NCAA football teams going down following their players being affected by COVID-19, the NBA bubble’s success is impressive and laudable.
With the start of the 2020-2021 NBA season confirmed to start in late December, it is hoped that the NBA can match the care taken with the 2019-2020 season, to ensure a safe and smooth run of games unaffected by the virus. For basketball fans across the globe, the next few months are sure to be exciting.