On March 11th, 2020, the world began to quickly shut down. The NBA announced that their season would be suspended for at least 30 days. Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert was the first player to test positive for COVID-19 prior to his game that night. The NBA had been tracking COVID-19 closely, so they knew once one player tested positive they needed to suspend the entire league right away.
When the NBA season was suspended in March, it was about 80% complete as most teams had already played 65 games out of 82. The NBA decided that they were going to skip right to the playoffs as they began searching for a place to hold their bubble. They narrowed it down to 3 locations: Disney World, Las Vegas and IMG Academy. The NBA ended up deciding to finish the season at Disney World in Orlando. While the playoff bubble was a huge, $190 million dollar investment for the NBA, it turned out to be a great success. Twenty-two teams were invited to finish out the season (the top 16 teams in the Eastern and Western conferences, plus six more teams within six games of eighth place in the two conferences). The players arrived on the week of July 7th and the real games started on July 30th.
The Players’ Association spent a long period of time preparing for the NBA Bubble. They wanted to be sure that the Bubble would be a safe environment for all the players and coaches. They sent a 113-page health and safety manual to players based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). When the players first arrived on campus, they had to stay isolated until they received two negative COVID-19 tests at least 24 hours apart. Players were assigned to stay in the same hotels as their teams. There were 3 hotels: The Gran Destino, The Grand Floridian and The Yacht Club. The teams with the best records got the privilege of staying at the Grand Destino, which was just built in 2018. While the players were in quarantine, they were delivered meals and given Amazon Fire TV sticks and gaming consoles.
There were many other rules that were set in the NBA Bubble. When players were not playing basketball, they were expected to maintain social distancing at all times and wear a face mask. The NBA’s commissioner Adam Silver was very convinced that the NBA’s campus at Disney was way safer than being anywhere else off campus. Silver really stuck to his word as the NBA Bubble could be the most successful Coronavirus success story. All of the games ran very smoothly and the players said that they felt safe and they had enough entertainment.
The one complaint that most players had was that they really missed being with their families. The NBA decided that each team that made it to the 2nd round of the playoffs would be allowed to invite guests. Players’ families were allowed into the Bubble starting on August 24th. Each player was allowed to invite up to 4 family members and those family members would need to follow the same quarantine procedures and also follow the same rules after quarantine. The players could not see their family members until they were out of quarantine but there were some great videos of players seeing their families for the first time in over a month.
As the playoffs went on, there were eventually only 4 teams left: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers. The Miami Heat went on to beat the Celtics in 6 games with Miami winning 4 games and Boston winning 2. The Heat performed very well in the Bubble and not many thought they would make it to the Finals. On the other side, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets in only 5 games. This was not a huge surprise that the Lakers were in the finals as they came into the playoffs as the favorite. In the Finals, Lebron James and Anthony Davis got out to a hot start and the Lakers won the first 2 games. Jimmy Butler on the Heat played his heart out each and every game against the Lakers, but the Heat ultimately fell short in Game 6. The Lakers went on to win their 17th NBA Finals in a crazy 2020 season. Lebron James became the first NBA player to win a championship with 3 different teams and he also was the 2020 Finals MVP. After the game, Lebron said “’I want my damn respect.” This was a huge championship for him as the 2020 season was like no other.
The NBA bubble was the real MVP of the 2020 season. The Bubble was a great success as there were zero COVID-19 outbreaks in the 3 months while the Bubble was active. The Bubble system was a proven model as it was also used by the National Hockey League (NHL) in Canada. The NHL set up a bubble for their playoffs, similar to the NBA, and they had 0 COVID-19 outbreaks. Unlike the NBA and NHL, the MLB tried to complete their playoffs without a Bubble and they had numerous COVID-19 outbreaks. The NBA Bubble showed that sports are possible in 2020, but they must be played in a controlled environment.