NBA Bubble bursted


Graphic by Ella Ermshler

The NBA has tested going back to home markets for the 2020 season, and there have been bumps in the road.

The risk of playing sports during a pandemic was already large, even when leagues decided to complete their seasons in one set location instead of places all over the continent, but the NBA managed to have arguably the cleanest management of the coronavirus.

While they were in the Disney bubble from late July to mid-October, there was not one single player, referee, coach, trainer or any other NBA employee you could think of that tested positive for COVID-19.

The NBA did an amazing job of handling the pandemic and making sure their players handled their business, but unfortunately, the bubble can’t float forever. It had to burst eventually, and that’s what happened when the league decided to start their 2020-2021 regular season on Dec. 22.

They decided to go ahead and allow the 30 teams to go back to playing in their home markets as they normally would, but of course there had to be modifications to how the league operated because there was no way the league was going to go a full season back in the home markets without positive tests.

One of the little things that I noticed is that the league switched some things up in order to make traveling more convenient. Some of these changes include teams playing each other two nights in a row, playing two consecutive games against the Lakers and Clippers since they both play in the same arena and even temporarily relocating the Toronto Raptors to Tampa because of Canada’s restrictions on sports being played in their country.

Now that the players aren’t “trapped” in one place for three months, they really have to be responsible for their off-the-court actions now, and that right there is what separates playing in the bubble from playing in the home markets. The players aren’t going to be able to just go to parties, clubs or any other activities that involve being around large groups of people like they would in a normal season.

It sounds relatively simple. Just focus on your job, which is to play and win basketball games, and there will be no issues, right? Wrong.

The Brooklyn Nets now have two different players who have been stuck in the middle of off-court drama: James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Look, I can somewhat understand Kyrie’s side of the story. I still think it’s stupid to go to a family birthday party during the season when you know the NBA is going to place punishments on you, which ended up being a $50,000 fine on top of losing $817,000 in salary for missing games due to quarantine.

However, you cannot underestimate the mental side of the game. Imagine not really being able to be with your family and friends, seeing all of the mayhem that is going on outside of the game of basketball, fighting for social justice and still having to play professional basketball through all of it. With all that being said, missing an extra five games for personal reasons doesn’t look all that bad for Kyrie. It’s going to take a lot of mental toughness to get through this NBA season, so let him get his help if or when he needs it.

Now for James Harden, I don’t have as much support for his actions earlier this season. The NBA prohibits players attending large indoor social gatherings of 15 or more people and entering bars, lounges, clubs or any environment of that nature. Some reports said he went to a strip club, but he said he was just “show(ing) my love to my homegirl at her event”. Whether he was at the club or not, Harden still broke the protocol and had to give up $50,000.

It’s extremely tough for NBA players to hold back from doing their normal things in public, but man, when you’re getting paid over $40 million a year to go and do what you love to do like James Harden, you have to be more responsible with decisions like that. I know NBA superstars look at a $50,000 fine like it’s nothing, and I get it. In Harden’s case, it’s less than one percent of his whole salary without including the money made off the court via endorsements and commercials, but is putting the health, safety and productivity of your team worth losing $50,000 to just congratulate a friend on her accomplishment?

People will also say that Harden did all of that stuff off the court because he really wanted to get out of Houston. He could’ve handled his departure with the Rockets franchise in a better way, too. I mean, sure, the Rockets always flopped in the postseason, especially when they ran into Golden State four times, but even though Harden gave him a new coach, a real center in DeMarcus Cousins and a decent teammate in John Wall, he had enough reasons to want out of Houston. The way he got out was sad and quite disrespectful, especially since a couple of his teammates noted his disrespectful attitude in press conferences, but hey, that’s the NBA.

The Rockets had all the spotlights on them for all the wrong reasons, and that includes handing the league COVID-19 problems before the regular season even started. They were supposed to start their season on Dec. 23 against the Thunder before it got postponed. Fortunately, they were able to play in Portland three days later, but unfortunately the league has already postponed 20 games four weeks into the season with more postponements certainly to come.

All of this drama circles back to letting teams just play in their home markets and trying to squeeze in more normalcy than they can get. I mentioned the little schedule changes earlier, but maybe the NBA could’ve done better by following the NHL’s philosophy of rearranging their divisions and playoff formats completely based on geography. Maybe have four divisions instead of six and change the playoff format so that you are the last team standing in your division before you play another team from another division. That could help the Bucks not having to go back and forth from Milwaukee to Atlanta or Miami for playoff games in the first round.

I know Adam Silver has to be aware of how other sports commissioners are retooling their own protocols and going through their own trials and errors to successfully, so hopefully he can take a page out of their books and figure something out. Whatever the league plans to do from this point on, they better make sure their players are following their protocols or the chances of fans watching Sportscenter and seeing a Woj Bomb stating that the NBA is getting shut down again will increase mightily.