The NBA Bubble: Will It Pop?

On March 11, the NBA decided to shut down the remainder of games in the 2019-2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Player Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz had tested positive for the virus right before a game with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Later, other players including Donovan Mitchell and  Kevin Durant tested positive as well. Thankfully, many of these athletes have fully recovered and playing well in the NBA right now.

By the middle of June, the association finalized a plan to resume the 2019-2020 season on July 31st. To complete the remainder of the regular season and to start the NBA playoffs, the NBA decided to move all their games to the Orlando Walt Disney World Resort, bringing 22 opting NBA teams, staff, and other personnel to a campus isolated from the outside world. Not only do players get to play basketball, but can enjoy themselves in places like waterparks or golf courses. 

In this Orlando isolation zone or the NBA “bubble”, as many call it, there are strict health protocols such as Covid-19 testing every day. Everything is constantly being cleaned and social distancing is in place. NBA players wear special Oura rings that can detect symptoms days in advance as well as devices that beep when people are too close. Players cannot leave unless an emergency occurs in their private life and food is provided by staff. Currently, the players live in three different hotels around the resort and are playing in three different arenas in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex (which is located in the resort).  

So far, the NBA Bubble has been “better than we had envisioned”, says NBA commissioner Adam Silver. There are many downsides, however. One drawback is that fans aren’t able to be at the arena courtside and watch the games at the Bubble anymore. The only audience at games is the teammates, staff, and other media personnel. What the NBA has set up in response is by creating a virtual fan experience using the Microsoft Teams App. A large screen with the fans’ face cams replaces the actual seats in the stadiums. The players are even able to hear some of what the fans are saying through their microphones.

Each returning team arrived in the NBA Bubble late July and then played the eight remaining regular-season games before the playoffs began in August. As of September 22nd, there are four remaining teams. The Eastern Semifinals are between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics while the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets are playing each other in the Western Semifinals. Go Lakers!

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