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The bubble is bursting – by John Cardullo

Looks like the bubble burst as the new NBA season gets hit with the COVID-19 virus within its first dozen games.

Let us start by going back in time approximately one year ago when the NBA, NHL were approaching their mid-season mark, the Super Bowl was preparing for the San Francisco 49ers and the Kanas City Chiefs were to square off, College basketball was running full steam to the season know as March Madness, and the MLB was getting through with their spring training season and revving up to head up North to start the 2020 season.

As everyone is fully aware, everything became derailed and suddenly stopped. The pandemic had begun and wrapped the entire world in its grip, and nobody had any idea when it was going to let go.

The first major sporting event that became a casualty of the Pandemic was the 2020 Summer Olympics, which was postponed and pushed back until the summer of 2021. Quarantining, wearing face masks and social distancing became the norm. As weeks turned into months, the business of the business of sports started to emerge again. The question that remained was how would the two professional sporting leagues that were winding down when the pandemic hit, going to finish their seasons and crown a season champion? Both the NHL and NBA came up with a plan to have the teams which were heading into to post season sequester themselves geographically and enter what became known as “bubbles”. Splitting the country in half, both leagues found venues that made sense for teams to enter and stay as they completed the season that was in play before the pandemic put a halt to everything.

So, the leagues placed the athletes in the “bubbles” where no one other than the teams and staff could enter; they would play their game and return to their designated dorm rooms. The thought process was to cut down on potential exposure by limiting access. That meant no fans in the stands, no family or friends in the complex, and testing for COVID19 every day. The athlete’s instructions were simple, six weeks of nothing but playing and staying in their rooms, practicing, and returning to their rooms. The NHL and NBA had only one goal in mind and that was to complete the season with no COVID out breaks and crown a champion. The timing for this plan was perfect, the summer months seemed perfect with the virus slowing down during the warmer months. Also, with the resumption of sports, the country was able to focus on something, anything other than the daily news of the pandemic.

The diversion was welcomed and gave us the sense of getting back to normal, even if was only briefly. The NHL ran without a hitch, but the NBA hit a few bumps in the road early on when it was discovered a few players tested positive for corona, it was later that it was also discovered that some of the players were sneaking out of the restricted area to go out on the town, but with a few fines and tightening of those restrictions the NBA managed to complete their season and head into the offseason with a new champion, and new knowledge on how to combat the virus and get a season in. Or did they?

An off-season for any NBA team is quite long. It’s even longer for those teams that do not qualify for the play-offs, and for the two teams that make it to the championship series. The games of the NBA season begin to wind down by the end of April and for those teams that do not qualify for the play-off’s their off season can run as long as 6 months. For the teams that qualify for the play-offs the season could drag out to the end of June for the final two teams that play for the NBA crown. Usually, this would give those two teams four full months of off-season time before beginning the next season. Usually.

2020 was not your usual season and the two teams that made it to the finals had 8 weeks off before getting ready to start the whole process over again. The NBA helped a little by pushing back their start of the season by a month, and it was also decided that even though the COVID-19 virus was reemerging worse than before, the NBA was scrapping the ‘bubble” and was going back to having the teams play in their home areas with no fans in the stands. As well as taking on a full NBA travel schedule, the reason was clear, if the NFL can do it than why not the NBA?

So, here is where the NBA season stands – only a dozen games played, our own Boston Celtics, for example, have postponed three games in a row due to COVID close contact tracing issues, meaning that players had come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. The tracing of the Celtics came back to a player on the Philadelphia 76ers, and players from the Miami Heat causing all three teams to deactivate enough players on each team to go under the NBA’s minimum available player limitation of 8 players eligible per game.

For those familiar with the normal NBA schedule, most teams play between 3 to 5 games in any given week, leaving little to no time to make up postponed games. If that was not concerning enough, already this season the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans have had players miss games because of COVID and those numbers are going to continue to grow. Basketball is a physical, close contact sport where social distancing and mask wearing is not an option. Throw into the mix that teams travel all over the country to play on a continuous basis, it only makes it harder to restrain the virus from spreading to the players and staffs of the teams. Going into the season there was a unified decision by the players on each team that returning into the bubble for 7 months was not going to be an option.

The cold fact is if the spread of the virus continues at the pace it is currently on, the NBA will be hard pressed to complete the season. There has been talk about pausing the season until the virus calms down and it becomes manageable to proceed with the season, or there is the option to push through a bit further then hit pause and then resume by heading back into the bubble and complete the season like they did last year.

It is becoming alarmingly clear that the virus will be around for a while more and whistling past the graveyard is not going to work. The best and safest course of action for the NBA is to hit pause for a couple of weeks resume play in a bubble environment, pause again then start up again and finish the season in a bubble and then hope the 2021-22 season will get back to normal, because with 12 games in and as many players testing positive and this many games being postponed and rescheduled, it is clear to everyone that the path the NBA is currently on is not the correct one and changes have to be made.

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John Cardullo
John Cardullo, sportswriter
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