The Bubble Has Burst: Will the NBA Suffer Because of it?


Reilly Dillon

The 2019-2020 NBA season was one for the history books. It came to an abrupt end when all-star player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with COVID-19 at the beginning of the Jazz vs Thunder game. Every player was forced to leave the court and games were cancelled for the day, and soon after the NBA would shut down. Teammate Donovan Mitchell ended up being the only other player infected from the game, but it was the beginning of the end. However, owner Adam Silver was determined to finish the season and crown a champion, so he came up with the NBA bubble.

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When the decision was first announced there were a lot of questions about how it would work. Where would it be? How many teams would go? Would families be allowed to come? How would everyday life function? Those questions were answered after some deliberation within the higher ups of the NBA, when they made a final decision. The NBA bubble would be in Orlando; Disney World specifically, guests wouldn’t be allowed until one person per player was later approved by Adam Silver, every team fighting for a spot in the playoffs would attend and everyday life was sorted out. Players were able to hang out with teammates at pools, lakes where they fished and on dedicated floors for each team. Everything was all set, and players and fans were excited for the new opportunity for games. There was concern with players following the rules, but luckily they all did except for a few instances where those players were punished accordingly. The punishments allowed for them to learn and allowed everyone else to remain safe. After 3 long months a champion was determined, the Los Angeles Lakers led by Lebron James and Anthony Davis were atop the league once again; ten years after their last championship with the late great Kobe Bryant. 

As a result of delaying the end of the season because of COVID, the NBA offseason was forced to be shortened from the normal 20 weeks to just over 10 weeks long. Before we knew it, games were back, but this time the NBA didn’t have a bubble. The new rules are much more lenient, players are forced to follow the COVID-19 rules, but there aren’t any special rules added apart from there being no fans. Because of this a lot more players are getting sick, a lot more games are being postponed and the records of teams are affected by this severely. 

It’s only been about a month in the new season and we already see teams suffering. For example, the 76ers were forced to play a game where they only had 7 active players with most of them being from their g-league team (minor league). Luckily nothing severe has happened and it doesn’t look like it’s going to shut down anytime soon. Sadly, this isn’t a guarantee. There’s still a chance that the league may need to shut down and because they aren’t in a bubble the chances are much higher. This causes fans, players and executives to question if the NBA will suffer without taking as many precautions as last year. 

In my opinion, I don’t think the NBA will be shut down, so not using a bubble will be successful. Even though I think it will be overall successful I think problems will come with it. I believe a lot of games will be postponed, viewership will go down as star players may be out for weeks because of COVID-19 and teams records will be affected drastically depending on how COVID affects each one of the teams. One example of the standings being affected is that the Celtics have already played two important games against the 76ers where they lost both because their star player Jayson Tatum was out. The Celtics aren’t the only team thus far who has lost key games due to COVID, and as the season progresses more and more teams will be affected. Many teams may lose games down the stretch that could cause them to miss the playoffs or get a lower seed than expected. One may argue that the records will be affected, but affected evenly and every team will suffer the same. I don’t think this is true because no one dictates who gets COVID, and depending on when a player gets COVID and what player it is the team may suffer significantly worse than other teams. 

One way to prevent these games could be postponing them to make sure teams play at full strength, but that is extremely unrealistic. This isn’t a good solution because games are already being postponed when a certain amount of players have COVID on the team and postponing a game because a star player is out would cause the season to never end. Games would constantly be postponed unless another bubble was formed. Because of all the problems caused by always postponing games I believe the current way of postponing is most successful which consists of players getting consistent tests and if they’re positive quartining until they’re set to play once again, and games are only postponed if the team doesn’t have enough players to play a fair game. Due to these games being postponed and players missing a lot of games viewership is going down. Casual NBA fans simply won’t tune in to games unless their favorite players play, or if it’s going to be a good game. Therefore, a lot less people will watch because the audience is filled with casuals. Even though these problems are hurting the NBA as a big fan myself I’m enjoying the season like I would any other and I’m looking forward to seeing how teams adjust and how it will turn out, and although there a lot of flaws in it, so far it’s been successful and I think that it will stay that way. 

To get the perspective of someone who doesn’t pay attention to basketball as much as myself, I interviewed Wes Lathrop who is more of a casual NBA fan. He talked about how he wasn’t watching as much as he had in the past and he felt out of the loop; just as I expected. He said, “I haven’t watched as many games as last year” and in conversation I learned he didn’t know of many trades and signings that had happened in the shortened offseason. When I asked him about the bubble he knew a lot more about what happened which shows that people were more interested when the bubble was happening. He doesn’t speak for everyone, but I assume most people are in the same boat as him. He talked about who he thought the bubble was so successful because it “accomplished its goal of finishing the season and someone was given the championship.”


On the contrary, when we talked about this season he disagreed with me. He thought that so far the season was unsuccessful. He said, “I think the league might get shut down for two weeks or longer at some point” and when I asked why he replied and said, “Teams are being quarantined and a lot of players are catching it and spreading it.” I agreed with him, but I mentioned how I believe these are just bumps in the road, and he immediately disagreed mentioning that “the season could easily get shut down” because of players, coaches and owners having complete freedom. He believed the risk of getting COVID is a lot higher because players are able to attend clubs, social gatherings, and other things. They aren’t allowed to, but that doesn’t necessarily stop them because they might not even get caught. I saw where he was coming from but I continue to disagree. I think players want to play as bad as we want to watch, so they’ll do everything they can to social distance and be safe. Although, he may be right as James Harden was seen at a club and Kyrie Irving was at a party, both of which were maskeless. Only time will tell whose right, but I maintain faith in the organization as a whole and I think the seasons will be played out successfully. 

Overall, I think the NBA season will have more problems than ever, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be solved. Everyone has the same goal: To finish the season as normal as possible. If everyone in the league and involved in the league keeps this in mind nothing is stopping the NBA from finishing the year and crowning a fair champion in the end. Although the bubble may have worked better and been more successful the current season allows players to live a normal life while playing the game they love while they lost their sense of reality when in the bubble. It’s a win win as long as rules are followed. We won’t know if the rules were followed or if the year was successful until someone is given the championship or the season is over, but I think the season will end with someone holding up the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.