by Brian Gewecke
Graphic by Zeyada Negasi
The NBA has emerged as a leader in professional sports organizations, especially over this year. When Rudy Gobert, a star player of the Utah Jazz, was found to have COVID-19, the league season was suspended indefinitely.
Over the summer, the NBA finally resumed play in a bubble in Orlando, Florida for the first time since March. This bubble is a safe, restricted zone including Disney World and ESPN’s Wide World of Sports campus, where the teams in play can play and live in a safe, COVID-19-free environment. Although some players received positive testing in the coming weeks before the season resumed, the NBA’s constant testing has revealed no positive cases for numerous weeks. This has made the Orlando bubble look like one of the safest places in the country. Other pro leagues, such as the MLB, haven’t had as much success. Many NBA fans, like math teacher Mark Thompson, believe that the NBA has done an amazing job handling the pandemic. “I think the NBA has handled the COVID-19 very well by implementing the bubble. They have not had any outbreaks as opposed to other sports like baseball,” he said. Senior Cam Barton seems to have the same sentiment, saying, “I would say that the NBA handled the pandemic better than any other sport. During the start of the bubble, only a couple of players had COVID-19 and those people had to quarantine before coming back, and were tested.”
The NBA has also shown leadership in its ability and willingness to empower its players. With the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and several other African-Americans at the hands of police officers, protests have erupted nationwide, demanding justice for their deaths. Many NBA players have been active in protests, and one of their main reasons for choosing to resume play has been to give themselves as large a platform as possible to speak on the issue.
So far, it seems the league has kept its promise to the NBPA to support the movement. The NBPA, or National Basketball Players Association, is a union led by veteran Chris Paul that negotiates specific terms with the league, such as pay scale and terms of play. The league has allowed players to wear statements on their jerseys, made commercials supporting the movement, put “Black Lives Matter” on the courts, and teams have donated money to support those fighting racial injustice. Players have had the opportunity to spread messages in their many interviews, as well. “I think the players got some concessions with their walkout of games. If the players would have left the bubble completely, then I think their ability to bargain for change would have severely diminished. I really like to see the activism on their part and have enjoyed reading the statements on the backs of their jerseys. The NBA seems more open to addressing issues of racism and social injustices than other leagues are. More progress needs to be made, but incremental steps are important. It is nice to see that the players care about these causes,” said Thompson when asked how well he believes the NBA has been addressing the issue of racial injustice. Senior Ethan Clymer also believes that the NBA has been doing well addressing the issues, but he also wonders what else the league can do to create real change. “I think it got some people talking about racial inequality and definitely allowed the players to voice their opinions. It is successful in that regard, but I don’t know how much it has actually done to change things,” he said.
Surprisingly, right from the jump, the NBA restart has been full of highly intense and competitive games. Although 8 of the teams didn’t get invited to the bubble, like the local Golden State Warriors, there has been plenty of entertainment for all fans. Thirteen Western Conference teams and nine Eastern Conference teams were invited to the bubble so as to restrict the number of players and staff to only those who had a chance to make the playoffs. The bubble started with about a month of team practices and scrimmages against other teams. Then, each team played eight play-in games to determine whether or not the playoff teams would be changed. The play-in games were an absolute scramble, as most of the six Western teams attempting to secure the eighth seed were neck-and-neck. Several teams stepped up, with the Suns, usually a bottom-feeder in the league, going 8-0 in their games, the Spurs, a team with little talent, almost making it into the playoffs, and the Trail Blazers, who were plagued by injury all season, forcing their way into the playoffs.
The playoffs have been amazing, with games and even some series coming down to the final seconds. Very few players have dropped in play quality, with more players either doing as well as expected or better. Most importantly, the title is wide open as the most recent dynasty, the Golden State Warriors, have been ravaged by injury all season. As teams are finishing up the conference semifinals, there is no clear championship favorite, or even favorite to win either conference. To have playoffs with this level of consistent competition without any fans present is a remarkable feat.
It will be interesting to see if the NBA can keep the same level of success in next year’s season, but for now, there is no questioning that the NBA has been one of the brightest parts of pro sports in these tough times.