Slam Dunk

This year’s NBA bubble model was a shocking success.

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DraftKings Nation

Teams ensured mask wearing in order to protect players from COVID-19.

Flynn McGurrin, Staff Writer

The recent cancellation and postponement of NFL games has come as no surprise to sports fans across the country. Most fans knew that a COVID-19 outbreak within the league would likely disrupt or cancel the season altogether. However, unlike the NFL, the NBA playoffs were a massive success. The NBA’s bubble model proved to not only stop the spread of COVID-19 but also provided some of the highest quality basketball we’ve seen in years. 

Mask wearing was required during the early stages and was encouraged throughout the playoffs.”

The NBA’s plan started with daily testing and strict regulations within the bubble. Players had to quarantine before they arrived in Orlando, as well as in their hotel rooms for the first two weeks. Players were routinely tested during and after their quarantine to ensure that the bubble was COVID-19 free. Mask wearing was required during the early stages and was encouraged throughout the playoffs. These strict rules were key to the overall success of the bubble.

This success, however, took lots of team effort and involved hundreds of NBA and Disney World employees, strict safety protocols, and the cooperation of coaches and players. Most important to the success of the bubble was commissioner Adam Silver. Silver originally opposed a bubble format, as he didn’t want to trap the players and staff in a hotel for multiple months.

“It wasn’t until I began my discussions with [Disney executive chairman] Bob Iger that there appeared a realistic geographical footprint with 22 teams where we could create an environment; where we wouldn’t be secluding people in a hotel tower for multi-months,” Silver said in an interview with USA Today. Hosting the bubble at Disney World solved many of the issues that would come with a bubble. Disney had the housing, employees, and space to provide for all of the NBA players and staff.

One of the most overlooked benefits of the Disney World bubble was the numerous recreation options for the players. The players had access to golf courses, fishing and boating equipment, and bicycles, which proved to be the most popular activity. Players were seen riding around daily. In fact, the bikes were in such high demand that the people working the bike rental had to turn people away before they opened in the morning.

“When I went there at nine AM, there were a bunch of people sitting in the lobby,” said Regional Recreation Proprietor of the Coronado Springs Resort, Cathy Dunlap. “They were like, ‘You can’t give this person a bike.’ Because there were four people sitting there waiting for bikes, and we only had four bikes.”

The activities in the bubble were important not only to give the players something to do but to keep them sane as well. It’s safe to say that many of us would go crazy if we got stuck in a hotel room for three months.

This year’s NBA playoffs provided fans with some of the best basketball in years. This high quality of play can be attributed to multiple factors. The lack of outside distractions ensured that NBA players were always focused. The Disney World setting ensured that players had enough to do so they weren’t bored out of their minds, and also got rid of outside factors they would have to deal with in any normal year.

With the team trainers and rehab tools literally a walk down the hall from the players, they always had the tools to keep their bodies in prime condition.”

Another key to the high quality of play was the lack of travel. In a typical year, teams consistently have to travel around the country for their games. With everyone in the same location, tiring flights and jet lag became non-existent, which meant hindrances to the players were at a minimum. With the team trainers and rehab tools literally a walk down the hall from the players, they always had the tools to keep their bodies in prime condition.

So why have other leagues had so much trouble with COVID-19? The NBA had an advantage over the other major sports leagues. With only twenty-two of the NBA teams participating in the bubble, and each team only having thirteen players, the NBA had fewer people to test, which meant less of a chance of COVID-19 interference. Other leagues, like the NFL, have over forty players on their rosters and a much larger staff. The problem may be that there just isn’t a venue big enough to hold all the players and staff. The bubble would also have to last the entire season, which for the NFL, ranges over six months. 

This year’s NBA playoff success stemmed from great leadership and a great staff. However, teams can only do so much in preparation. The NBA bubble was the perfect combination of great planning and a little bit of luck.