Less than 15 games into the NBA 2020-21 campaign, the league is already struggling with the harsh realities of conducting a semi-regular season during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Washington Wizards are the latest team to endure a team outbreak, forcing the postponement of four games. Washington has had six players test positive for the virus. In all, the NBA has seen 14 postponements since the season began on December 22nd. It’s quite clear, the NBA is struggling beyond the comforts of the Disney Bubble.
The latest from the Wizards on their postponed games due to COVID-19: https://t.co/MtjyaBlFeT
— NBCSports Washington (@NBCSWashington) January 16, 2021
NBA Struggling with Coronavirus Outbreaks away from the Disney Bubble
NBA Disney Bubble: A Dream, Not Reality
We all know the story. But it’s worth repeating. After a five-month hiatus, the NBA agreed to resume its 2019-20 season in the confines of the NBA Disney Bubble. Hosted at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., the league spent 107 days, playing 172 games, and crowned a champion with zero positive COVID-19 tests. It was a remarkable feat, made possible by many. This list includes league officials, players, broadcast partners, referees, team staff, and Disney employees.
Despite the resounding successes, the NBA Disney Bubble was more of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. According to The Washington Post, the league never really considered repeating the bubble. This decision encompassed a number of factors including negotiations with the players’ association. Following the conclusion of the 2020 NBA Finals, the league and players’ union met to discuss the terms of this year’s campaign. Returning to the bubble was never considered a legitimate option.
Lakers’ LeBron James on NBA bubble: “This has probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional… I would be lying if I said I knew everything inside the bubble, the toll it would take on your mind and body… It’s been extremely tough.” pic.twitter.com/0FFYoTUK74
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 29, 2020
When both sides came to a final agreement, the 2020-21 regular season was scheduled to look something like this. The league agreed to a shortened 72-game season, split by two distinct halves. Games would be played in home arenas with limited travel, all under strict protocols guided by a 158-page document.
The NBA remained relatively unscathed for the first two weeks of the season. Only one game was postponed prior to New Year’s Day, the Dec. 23 matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. Unfortunately, the last two weeks have been a different story. Since January 10th, thirteen games have been postponed in accordance with the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, and Minnesota Timberwolves join the Wizards as four teams most affected by surging numbers.
These issues are reminiscent of the same struggles that Major League Baseball dealt with during its resumption of the 2020 regular season. Game postponements, massive schedule changes including doubleheaders in baseball, and players sent to self-quarantine became a norm during the season. Undoubtedly, these struggles stem as a direct result from travel schedules, players not isolating, and the lack of a confined bubble.
Despite these struggles, the NBA is not ready to hit the panic button. League officials confirmed there are no plans to pause play or return to a bubble. Instead, the league reexamined its lengthy book of COVID-19 protocols and announced additional measures to contain the outbreaks. Some of these protocols included additional testing requirements, new time constraints on team meetings and practice lengths, and players wearing masks when on the bench.
"Any kind of an NBA bubble at this point is a moonshot."
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) January 11, 2021
While league officials remain hopeful for these enhanced protocols, it’s a waiting game. Only time will tell if these protocols have a positive effect on the situation. The NBA expected these struggles at the beginning of this year. It’s more about containing the situation for limited damage. The league purposely released its schedule in two halves to accommodate any postponed games. Life has certainly been more difficult away from the friendly confines of the NBA Disney Bubble, but the league will press on.
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