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The NBA "Bubble": A Look Back

Talking about the NBA season in the "bubble," and how it may be a mark of the future going forward.

NBA in the bubble

Our sympathies go to those who were not able to make it past 2020, losing key folks like Kobe Bryant. However, we're halfway through 2021 and made it this far. It almost feels like there wasn't a pandemic, given the normalcy shown around our residence, let alone the goings-on in sports. It's like we lived inside someone's nightmare-ish dreams, and we've all finally awakened to find out what we missed out on. All that missing out does include how the leagues were able to manage such crisis. With that said, let's look back at the NBA playing in the "bubble," located at Orlando, Florida.

Things happen, and when they occur on a large scale, we wonder how such entities handle the situation. "Stay home, save lives," as well as "Flatten the curve," were the mantras uttered through the 2020 year. Coming in the month of May, NBA TV aired an interview with Commissioner Adam Silver on how to go about continuing and finishing the 2019-2020 season. Despite the mixed reactions around the league, as well as fans, Commissioner Silver went on to go about wrapping up basketball in the month of July. As the pandemic stuck around, came the slaying of a dark-skinned citizen by a police officer which triggered protests on a worldwide scale, in addition to causing unnecessary destruction of businesses big and small, more arrests, looting, road blockages and wreckless rioting. Nearly declaring martial law on a national scale, a declaration of the military being in control and not the president, tempers continue to flare and athletes voiced out their concerns and pleas. Nearing the seasonal continuation, it wouldn't have been completed without players wearing jerseys printed with messages calling for complete justice. As practice was scheduled and the facility in Orlando was ready, it was time to continue basketball again.

As you can see from the image above, you're not looking at a plain basketball floor. Center court is the famous NBA logo, and above that are the words of an organization known for promoting awareness against any systemic injustice toward mellinated people—Black Lives Matter.

The Bubble in Orlando

Bam Adebayo with referee

Wide shot of the court in the bubble

Not too bad, and given its #WholeNewGame promotion, the people on the screens, behind the statisticians and team benches, consists of fans streaming via webcam and placed in virtual seating. Depending on their time of appearance, some of those audience members' actions seemed like it was pre-recorded then looped throughout the entire game. Some members had better quality webcams than others, and some had better internet connections and smoother streams than others. Nevertheless, it was nice to see. Oh, and the people at the scores table were fully shielded with plexiglass, which I'm sure saw a huge rise in stocks during 2020.

Giannis shooting a free throw in the bubble

Players and coaches were socially distant, as the environment itself felt like a scrimmage, or even the early days of the NBA's Summer League which used to exclusively air on NBA TV. Besides that, Commissioner Silver had to wrap up this season in the books, and while some players opted not to continue, the NBA did what they could. I mean, hey, basketball is better than none at all, right?

More audience members from the back of the court

Giannis sitting by where the cameras are normally stationed at

Interesting shot above, with Giannis sitting by some cushioned bleachers—an area which is seldom shown on camera. There are people also seated in attendance, which, according to sources, are some of the players' family members and friends. If it's not the players' families, it's usually just staff/employees on the clock.

Since this was a continuation, the season was nearing its approach to the playoffs. That meant that in the continuation, some teams with bad records, and whom are eliminated from playoff contention, were not invited in the "bubble." As the playoffs started, the games played as normal with the best of 7 series. Home teams are indicated with the team's logo on the floor. Yeah...that's it, basketball was becoming basketball again and it was fun having the sport back.

TV Ratings

Because NBA wanted to wrap up their season during a time when basketball isn't normally aired, TV ratings were a huge struggle for the league. Some say it's because they continued during a time when basketball isn't scheduled (July to October, with exception to preseason), while others say the games being played in the "bubble" doesn't bring in the same feel as games played at the home team's location [with a live audience]. Sports media thought it was the cord-cutting trend that has cable companies scrambling for subscribers, despite their pricey packages, that became the cause of low ratings. Some reported that it was the "woke" messages written on the floor and on the players' jerseys, plus the kneeling during the national anthem, that made fans dreary—a similar occurrence taken from what went on in the NFL per Colin Kaepernick. Reasons like those are enough to keep people debating until they fall asleep, but seeing that sports leagues have gone on to secure their seasons in the history books, they [seem to] feel optimistic trying to garner back a huge profit in the next, following season. In reality, despite the season being released in two parts, despite some games being postponed due to virus outbreaks, this 2020-2021 season saw a very good rise in ratings, plus the allowance of fans in attendance.

According to reporter/author Dr. Jon Lewis "Paulsen" of Sports Media Watch, he had this to say as the 2020-2021 Playoffs began:

The NBA Playoffs not only rebounded from last year's poor start in the "bubble," but edged past 2019 as well.

from news article NBA playoff openers cruise past '20, edge '19

Read all the numbers and the percentages of the 2020-2021 NBA season compared to the "bubble" by clicking here. It was a strong start from Game 1 with the appearance of the Lakers, despite playing in the new Play-In Tournament, plus the fun competition at Madison Square Garden between the Knicks and the Hawks.

The capacity crowd, especially with outdoor fans watching the game in Milwaukee, even on the NHL side, tons of outdoor fans watching the Tampa Bay Lightning during the Stanley Cup Finals, it makes you wonder if there was even a pandemic at all. As uttered earlier: In the 2020 year, it felt like a huge dream we were all sleeping in. It's only now we're slowly waking up and finding out what we missed, how we comprehend the 2020 year and what we learned from what happened, including lessons we learned about ourselves (at least we hope so, since people are still acting crazy).

The "Bubble" Being a Sign of the Future

Sports are more enjoyable when you're attending in person. However, as we've documented it back in July 20, 2016, fan fights still happen, and more legal actions have been taken against the individuals involved in the altercation(s), banning the perpetrators off the premises and revoking their [season] tickets from ever entering a venue. Fan fights will occur, as unfortunate as that sounds, given the emotional ties with watching sports. We hope that all fans keep safe while enjoying a delicious meal, watching and rooting for their very team (cheering and screaming burns a lot of energy, making you hungry very quickly).

Sadly, not everyone plays by the rules, or worse, read this website of ours. We're not sure about the sudden rise in violence among fans at sports venues, let alone throwing stuff at players, but we fear that leagues may restrict fans from ever entering again. Some sports writers swear that happenings, like scheduling a season in the "bubble" will never occur again in the future, but things take a twisted turn. News reports of a new pandemic brewing seems to be in the surface, along with threats of a worldwide blackout due to the electrical grid going down, so if leagues like the NBA aren't setting and/or preparing some kind of Plan B or C, or even D and E for good measure, we may see another iteration of the "bubble" again.

Saying that seems like a pessimistic view of the future NBA seasons, and possible 'like-ness' to games played in the "bubble," but increases in working at home and homeschooling will cause fan attendance to be done via webcam. Attending the game at home, you can have all the food you want, dress [in]appropriately from the waist down, scream, and even cuss and swear, all you want, yell the players and refs without offending other nearby fans, and no worries about heavy traffic on the road after the game is done. Better yet, you don't have to worry about a stupid fan picking a fight with you because your team is doing better than theirs. Also, if you think it's funny, you won't get ejected nor banned for throwing popcorn, water bottles and spitting. (Mind you, doing so is more damaging to your computer/laptop/tablet/smartphone.) I also think the NBA's tech sponsors like Microsoft may monitor your activities through their live streams, so if you flip the middle finger(s) or 'flash' the camera, you might get banned/blacklisted. Besides all that, it is to our word that we might see another vision of the "bubble" in the future, not because of another viral breakout (let's hope that isn't the case), but perhaps of either the violent behavior among fans or because of its convenience. Hard for us to predict when it might happen, though not anytime soon, but we're certain it'll happen again down the line.

Overall, seeing our favorite sport in the "bubble" is something to behold. It was a time when we've all taken our lives, and even our immune systems, for granted, uncertain to where sports leagues like the NBA will carry the rest of the season to. In protection and safety of the fans and the teams, seeing them play without a live audience was also something we may never see again. Due to the outcries of various players thinking playing without fans is no fun, while some mentioned about canceling the season until the "curve is flattened" in the 2021 year, Commissioner Silver did what he had to do and provide the product promptly and diligently. Fans are at the ready, and even if ratings struggled, it would find its way back anyway.

The "bubble" is a great conversation piece to those wanting to reflect back on the sports almanac in 2020. With its ties to the massive social injustice and complying with the health and safety of both the team staff and the fans, mark the NBA season in the "bubble" as a historic occurrence that summed up most of what broke out in the middle of the 2020 year (that's without mentioning the influx of job layoffs and business closures). In our case, we also mark the "bubble" as a scheduled event to where, we feel, the future might be considered doing again, if fan behavior hasn't improved, ticket prices are too high, another virus breaks out (I sure hope not) or pushing the technological advancement of virtual reality given the safety and comfort of staying home.

Don't get too caught up on our predictions, but keep this in mind as we return to normal. We're not sure how the marketing executives in the NBA felt about having games in the "bubble," but in the case any of you working for the NBA are reading this, don't regret closing the rest of the 2019-2020 season in a facility at Orlando. Us fans going virtual will be the newest, latest and—yes—greatest thing we'll be having. And for those who have read all the way to this point of our article, we'll stamp our predictions of this to occur some time between 2025 to 2035.

Be sure to save some money on VR headsets as they'll get lighter, thinner and more wireless, closer to eye/sunglasses. It'll be the newest, greatest, and safest way to enjoy sports from here on out without any bother from the outside world.