America's Problems Could Destroy the NBA Bubble

By Stephen Douglas
LeBron James in a Black Lives Matter shirt after Game 4.
LeBron James in a Black Lives Matter shirt after Game 4. / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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If the NBA bubble bursts, it will have nothing to do with coronavirus. In the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, some players are considering boycotting a game or even going home. It's easy to see how this could all unravel very quickly.

It sucks. Everything about this country sucks right now. There are no real bright spots. Just distractions, like the NBA putting on an incredible showcase for basketball in a safe environment in the middle of a public health crisis. The league did everything right for months. They tested and quarantined and wore masks and social distanced and once they got everyone into the Disney bubble they didn't have a single positive test result. What they pulled off is both incredible and completely unremarkable. All they did was follow the advice of experts - at a great cost, obviously - and they did what other countries around the world were able to do. They controlled COVID-19 and kept their community safe.

Outside the bubble, that's not happening. It's not happening from a public health perspective and it's not happening in America's streets where another unarmed Black man was shot by police. This has shaken players and coaches. It has confirmed fears of players who wondered if the league should resume the season in the first place out of concern it could take attention away from the societal change they were working towards when the league returned.

The NBA's return featured social justice messages on players' backs. Black Lives Matter was written on the court. Postgame interviews were often used as an opportunity to talk about victims and the need for societal change.

And then police shot Jacob Blake. Police who weren't wearing body cameras shot him in the back and who knows what story we'd be hearing about this unjustified use of deadly force if someone hadn't been recording video from across the street. This is disheartening. And scary. And if players are distracted or upset or reconsidering what they're doing trapped in a bubble trying to distract people from how bad things are in their communities, who could blame them?

Now protesters have been killed. How the hell are NBA players supposed to fix that? The circumstances behind this 17-year-old kid crossing state lines to shoot protesters aren't worth getting into right now. Because everything about this is tiring and a distraction and players must feel it. They must feel so helpless. They have incredible reach and influence and nothing they have said seems like it has worked. How many more people have to give passionate speeches like Doc Rivers and LeBron James and any number of family members of victims? How many times can people make the same point without anyone caring?

And while basketball players are somehow in charge of turning around an entire society, there's still that whole pandemic thing. In theory, some of these players are also worried about their children returning to school. Or maybe they decided to have their kids stay home or maybe their children are doing distance learning. Here's how it's going in Florida, where two NBA teams and the Disney bubble are located.

On top of that, Texas and Louisiana, home to four NBA teams (including two that are still in the bubble competing in the playoffs) are about to face a devastating natural disaster which the National Weather Service is literally calling "unsurvivable." TONIGHT. Cities and towns are being evacuated. People are being forced to leave their homes and travel during the one year where you shouldn't really be doing either.

Who knows what that area will look like tomorrow. How many more dead. What a full recovery of that area will cost or how long it will take for a whole lot of people to put their lives back together.

Focusing on sports right now is tough. The NHL and NBA and impending football season are distractions from literal life and death. Like a lot of basketball fans, I selfishly hope they stick it out, but if they walked away right now, I'd applaud them for taking a stand. For choosing family and community over a game. The NBA showed America what it had to do to control coronavirus. The NBA shoved social justice messages down Americas throat. America hasn't listened. Maybe they'll listen when the NBA is gone.

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