Inside the NBA Bubble


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

By Paul Gustafson, Lead Multimedia & Social Media Editor (Sports)

The 2020 NBA season was one of the most anticipated in recent years. Fans across the world were treated to high level, competitive basketball all season long. That was until March 11, when the season came to a crashing halt after Utah Jazz all-star big man Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. After months of darkness with no games to watch and players to cheer for, NBA fans felt hopeless that the season would never finish. 

Their prayers were answered in  June when commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA players association approved the proposal of “the bubble”. The Bubble is an isolation zone located in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The 22 best teams in the league were invited to stay in the bubble and finish their journey for the championship. Players, staff and coaches from the 22 teams are tested for coronavirus daily, and are required to wear face coverings and social distance. 

Based on regular season records, the teams were split between three Disney hotels. The best teams (Lakers, Bucks, Heat, Raptors, Clippers, Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz) stayed in “The Gran Destino Tower”, The middle of the road teams (Thunder, 76ers, Rockets, Pacers, Mavericks, Nets, Grizzlies, Magic) stayed in “The Grand Floridian”, and the bottom feeders of the bubble (Trailblazers, Kings, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns, Wizards) stayed at “The Yacht Club”. 

After arriving in bubble, players were required to quarantine in their hotel rooms for two days and test negative for COVID-19 twice within the 48 hour period before being released from their room. Once released from quarantine, players had access to food and other recreational activities such as cornhole, fishing, golf and even DJ pool parties. Between practices and team meetings, players had plenty of free time on their hands. Philadelphia 76ers rookie Mattise Thybulle and other players such as Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee took the time to get into vlogging and content creation. Their videos gave fans an exclusive look into the life of an NBA player living in the bubble. 

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for those living in the bubble was the fact that players had to be away from their families for a long period of time. Lakers superstar Lebron James compared the bubble experience to prison on his twitter, saying that he “Hated to leave the James Gang”, the name that he calls his family. Other players such as Celtics point guard Kemba Walker didn’t view the bubble as much of a challenge because he is, “a single man with no kids,” Walker said according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic, “all I do is stay in the house anyways, so there’s nothing wrong with me staying in the room.” 

After two weeks of preparation, teams played eight regular season games to decide playoff teams and seeding. The high stakes seeding games were a way for many players to themselves on the map as household names in the NBA. Pacers forward T.J. Warren, referred to by many as “The Michel Jordan of the bubble”, dropped a career high 53 points in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers and was named to the all-bubble first team alongside superstars Damian Lillard, James Harden, Luka Doncic and Devin Booker. 

The before mentioned Booker broke into superstar status during the seeding games where he led a below average Phoenix Suns team to an undefeated 8-0 record. While they ultimately fell short of the playoffs, they cemented themselves as a serious threat in the Western conference next season and Booker proved that he is an all star player. 

The resumption of games saw the introduction of virtual fans. The NBA installed large video screens surrounding the courts featuring fans watching the game live through Microsoft Teams. Former basketball players and celebrities such as Dwyane Wade, Lil Wayne and Barack Obama could be seen catching games on the virtual fan screen. 

The players were not only fighting on the court in Orlando but off the court as well. Players and teams used their platform to spread awareness on social justice in America. The NBA allowed their athletes to feature social justice slogans including “Black Lives Matter,” “Equality,” “Vote” and many more as the last name on their jersey. “Black Lives Matter” was also written on the court for all of the games.

One thing that stayed the same during the NBA restart was the playoffs, as usual eight teams made the cut from each conference and they played best of seven series to advance. In the end the betting favorite Los Angeles Lakers came out on top of the western conference and the underdog Miami Heat prevailed out east. In a six game series Lebron James and the Lakers took down Jimmy Butler and the Heat to win the championship in a season like no other.