On March 11, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver announced the suspension of the 2019-20 season. This announcement was the result of Rudy Gobert, who plays center for the Utah Jazz, testing positive for COVID-19. Fans were in disbelief, and general managers of the thirty NBA teams scrambled to discuss the various possibilities of finishing the season in a safe way in order to ensure the players and staff would not be at high risk of infection.
On June 4, after long awaited anticipation, the NBA set forth its plan to resume the 2019-20 season in what the NBA referred to as the “NBA bubble.” This bubble consisted of only 22 teams, 13 from the Western Conference and 9 from the Eastern Conference, quarantining and playing the remainder of the season in the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network’s (ESPN) Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The remainder of the season was set to unfold in the following manner: each team would first play eight regular season games in order to have a chance at being seeded within the top eight of each conference, and then regular best-of-seven playoffs would begin and surmount to the finals.
The logistics behind this idea had to be immaculately planned out in order to leave no margin for error which could result in an outbreak of COVID-19 within the bubble. On July 7, teams began to arrive at the complex, where they began training camps in order to prepare for the official restart date of July 30. Scrimmages between the teams began to take place on July 22. This was the very first instance of teams playing against one another in over 4 months. As the season progresses from now on, teams will be eliminated and allowed to leave the bubble, leaving only the winning team in the end. The bubble is expected to last until October 12, provided that all players and staff continue to test negative. ESPN has reported that the three courts used for games are fully sanitized after games to ensure safety and abide by the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines.
Finally, given the current political atmosphere and the return of sports to television, many players and staff have used their platform in order to show support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The first instance of this was when the Toronto Raptors arrived in their tour bus decorated with “Black Lives Matter” written in bold. The league has heavily embraced this mobilisation and advocacy by players, going on to even print the message on the hardwood floor of all three courts used during the games. Players have been wearing shirts with the phrase printed during warmups, and the vast majority of players and staff have taken a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to each game, a gesture symbolizing a stand against police brutality towards people of color in the United States. Furthermore, the players have been allowed to choose 1 of 29 league approved messages — Black Lives Matter being one of them — to have on their jerseys in the space where their names would usually be. Chris Paul, who plays point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder chose to have “EQUALITY” printed on the back of his jersey. In an interview with ESPN’s Marc Spears, Paul said “I chose ‘EQUALITY’ because it reminds us that in order to have real impact and change, we need to make a conscious effort to level the playing field and create systems that are not bias based on race, education, economics or gender.” It is clear that the rest of the NBA season will not only be very different in terms of layout, but it will also continue to have an unprecedented amount of advocacy and activism regarding the current state of racism in the United States.