Bouncing in the Bubble

Ciara Kenney, Staff Writer

With one of the most enthusiastic fan bases in the world of sports, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was put under intense pressure to resume the 2019-20 season after it was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the constant, intense physical contact inherent to basketball, keeping the players safe was sure to be a difficult task for the organization. 

The solution? The bubble. 

The NBA poured millions of dollars into creating an isolated coronavirus-free bubble inside the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. Players, coaches and other league personnel were required to abide by strict restrictions to prevent a league-wide spread of COVID-19.

The official resumption of the season brought relief and hope to fans also suffering during the pandemic.

“This was the first sense of normalcy I felt after months in quarantine,” Pali senior and basketball fanatic Lheyton Madison said. The NBA was even able to simulate a fan experience for the players by seating virtual fans in seats and playing pre-recorded crowd noise to heighten the experience. Snoop Dogg, President Obama and ex-Miami Heat star Chris Bosh were some of the familiar faces displayed courtside during the games. 

The league invited 22 teams to complete the remainder of the NBA season and compete for a spot in the abbreviated playoffs. The rules and regulations prescribed by health care experts — including quarantine upon arrival and constant testing — were strictly enforced for players, staff, journalists and family inside the bubble. No one was permitted to leave the bubble unless given an excused absence by the league or until their team was eliminated. These stringent measures proved successful in preventing transmission.

After months of crowd-free basketball in the bubble, the NBA Finals were highly anticipated, especially for Los Angeles Lakers fans. The last time the Lakers stepped on an NBA Finals court was a decade prior, when the late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant — who died tragically in a helicopter accident earlier this year — led the team to its 16th title. The weight of the moment was immense for the Lakers and their fans. While spectators were unable to physically attend the games, millions eagerly tuned in to support their favorite teams from home.

The excitement and the fear of the unknown culminated in a well-deserved victory for the Lakers, as the team dismantled the Jimmy Butler-led Miami Heat, 106-93, in game six of the best-of-seven series and took home the trophy. Star player Lebron James concluded his season with the NBA Finals MVP award, which he dedicated to the late Bryant.

The NBA’s success suggests a model for congregating during the pandemic. But creating the safe bubble was expensive, and those in the bubble were more motivated than most to follow the rules. The NBA players had a common goal: they all wanted to play, they all wanted to compete, and they all wanted to create a memorable season for both themselves and their fans. 

Perhaps if greater society could also identify a common goal and agree to prioritize safety and make sacrifices the way the players did, people wouldn’t have to bear the stresses of social isolation and online school.