Barring any sudden spike in coronavirus cases, the 2020 NBA Bubble will be viewed as a massive success for the league. The COVID-19 pandemic suspended play in March and had fans, players, and coaches fearing the worst for the conclusion of the 2020 NBA season. Teams already played over 60 games prior to the season’s cancellation and the many unknowns surrounding the league posed significant threats to the resumption of play anytime soon.
Commissioner Adam Silver and the rest of the NBA staff were tasked with a truly unique situation that could have stained the league’s reputation for the foreseeable future. Despite worries about the safety and practicality of resuming play, Silver formulated an exceptional concept to allow the season to conclude in a “bubble format” where players and staff are isolated from the outside world.
After implementing the plan, numerous conflicts could have come up, perhaps none bigger than the spread of COVID-19 amongst bubble participants. As of this writing, however, nobody in the Orlando bubble has tested positive for the coronavirus and the season has safely continued into the conference finals.
Now the question becomes, what plan does Silver decide to implement to ensure a 2021 season is played? An idea that has been floating around is the implementation of “regional bubbles” where a handful of teams play amongst one another for a month before moving on to a different bubble against varying opponents. Obviously, scheduling all the games and figuring out which teams move to which bubble and when they move would all be a hassle. Fans would be allowed in each bubble after compliance with league testing regulations which could change next season (discussed later in article). Silver has not indicated anything regarding the regional bubble concept, but it seems like the next reasonable step after the successful conclusion in Orlando. If the NBA is successfully able to replicate this season’s Orlando bubble model at each regional location, they could pull off the spectacular and shock the world with a 2021 season resembling some sort of normality.
Instead, the NBA could copy the NHL and implement the bubble concept in a foreign country if COVID-19 cases in the United States pose to be too dangerous to the league. Hockey has relocated to Canada for the remainder of the current season with games being played in both Edmonton and Toronto.
Their success, with zero total COVID-19 positive tests, must be noted and considered in NBA executive meetings. Perhaps the NBA might follow a similar path and temporarily move to Canada due to their ties with the Toronto Raptors. One can only wait and see.
During a CNN panel discussion on Tuesday, Silver spoke out about how he currently believes the 2021 season be played out. Is Silver looking to allow fans to be able to attend games, and if so, what measures will be in place to ensure that individual safety is prioritized? First, it is very encouraging that he alluded to “rapid testing” for fans in an attempt to have them infiltrate NBA stadiums for the first time since March. He seems eager to bring back crowds, and considering the NBA’s success with the Orlando bubble, a reasonable solution is not out of question.
If there is a safe and efficient way to let fans watch their favorite team in person, it seems Silver will be willing to implement it. He claims to have been listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci in regard to his concerns with another COVID-19 spike in the fall/winter of 2020, which is a positive sign. Silver looks to be taking the time now and through the offseason to ensure NBA basketball returns on schedule.
This schedule will look much different next season because of the late conclusion to the current one. It is not possible to have the season begin in October like previous years since the 2020 playoffs will extend into the month. Instead of resuming play in December like many believed, Silver said in the discussion that the season will tip off in January for precautionary reasons. This gives the league more time to develop a thorough plan and analyze the coronavirus trends to aid in the decision.
Now knowing the 2021 NBA season will officially begin in January, another question arises. Since the season will extend through the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, what will happen to the stars who wish to represent their national team? Silver acknowledged the possible conflict and assured
“There are a lot of great U.S. players, and we may be up against a scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren’t competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing… That’s something we’re going to have to work through."
Now this will only be an issue if the Summer Olympics were to be carried out as planned, which is anything but a guarantee. NBA superstars will have a critical decision to either support their team for the entirety of the season or abandon the NBA temporarily to represent their country in the Olympics. It is likely that the elite players on non-title contending teams will participate in Tokyo along with younger talents, while those with championship aspirations stay with their NBA squad. For the United States, talent shouldn’t be an issue. But weaker national teams like Spain and Serbia, for example, will be heavily influenced by the choices of key players regarding the Summer Olympics.