The NBA Restart In The “Bubble”

I have expended a lot of words about the MLB situation over the past several days so I‘d like to avert my eyes from that train wreck today and gaze upon the NBA and its planned restart in its “Orlando Bubble”.  Just so you can appreciate the complexity of setting something like this up for the first time ever, the NBA circulated a “health and safety protocol” to all the teams last week.  That protocol was 113 pages long.

As the protocol was in the final stages of editing/printing/sending, the coronavirus figuratively sent a shot across the bow of the NBA.  New cases  of COVID-19 in Florida this week are running three times higher than they were back in April/May and – more importantly – new cases of COVID-19 in Orange County – where the “Orlando Bubble” will exist – were also up significantly.  Here is the issue in a nutshell:

  • If the “Orlando Bubble” were like Biosphere in the sense that no one and nothing goes into or out of the “Bubble” once it is closed down and everyone and everything inside has been tested to be coronavirus free, there’s no problem. 
  • That is not the case with the “Orlando Bubble”.

The teams will be staying in Disney-provided quarters and that means all of the services of housekeeping and food preparation and all of the “administrivia of life” will be done by Disney folks – – and they will go in and out of the “Bubble”.  Media members covering the league and the games will not be quarantined in the “Bubble” either.  You get the point; the “Bubble” is going to be penetrated every day; and if you think about it, bubbles do not persist once subject to penetration.

The NBA protocol puts great faith in the testing and isolation procedures it will have in place in Orlando once the players arrive there.  Initial workouts for teams will be in the home areas and while there, players will be tested AND they will also be allowed to go about a normal existence until the teams finally assemble and head to Orlando.  Players can participate in protests and other social events without the need for supervision or reporting.  Here is what that means:

  • 22 teams with a total retinue of 35 people will arrive in Orlando within a short period of time.
  • Those 770 people will be tested/screened and put in isolation for up to 48 hours.
  • From the outset, the sanctity of the “Orlando Bubble” will depend on there being no false negatives in those 770 initial tests…

There were some players who thought they would not report to the “Bubble” because they felt it was more important for them to devote time and effort to the ongoing social justice reform movement in the country at the moment.  Time will tell how many of them make that choice, but that is another wrinkle in the smoothness of the NBA restart.  Additionally, players are not required to report back to there teams for whatever reason they may have.  Already two players, Davis Bertans (Wizards) and Trevor Ariza (Blazers) have announced that they will not participate in the Florida games.

Please do not infer that I think the NBA made a bad decision when they came up with the concept of the “Orlando Bubble”.  At the time they made the decision, it seemed as though they had found a way to resume their season, put together a playoff tournament and crown a champion for what is hopefully a unique set of circumstances for the league.  The issue is that conditions have changed.  Back when this plan was hatched, Florida had two appealing health statistics going for it:

  1. The absolute number of COVID-19 cases in the state was small relative to other states of similar size.
  2. The number of new cases per day was relatively constant.

Today neither of those conditions obtain and that increases the possibility that the virus can get inside the “Bubble” through the exchange of people and objects across the barrier that creates the “Bubble”.  What looked like a sturdy bridge for the NBA to get from cancelled games to a playoff now might be a rickety one.  Hopefully, it will stand the test.

I mentioned that some players may choose not to play in the “Bubble games” to continue their efforts to forge social change in the country.  As sure as I am that the sun came up this morning, there will be folks who label players making that decision in less-than-positive ways.  I certainly think that would be wrong; these are adults who are facing a serious dilemma in their lives.  Neither choice they might make is improper or counter-productive; they must have the latitude to make their own decision and then for everyone else to accept it and move on.

Having said that, here is something I do not understand:

  • I do not understand how playing in these NBA “Bubble games” prevents those players from using their celebrity status to push for social reforms.
  • In fact, I do not understand how playing in these “Bubble games” even detracts from players abilities to push for social reforms.

Presumably, one or more of the players who choose to opt out for this reason will make the case that allows me to understand here…

Finally, here is Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle and his assessment of the decision to resume the NBA season in Orlando:


“The NBA is about to bubble down in Florida.

“But why Florida? Apparently, there were no leper colonies available.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………