Three months and three days after they arrived, the Los Angeles Lakers will finally leave the Disney campus in Orlando. They will fly home today as world champions, and will eventually bear rings that will serve as a reminder of the time they spent in a bubble of the NBA's creation. While the country tore itself apart between battles over social injustice and the coronavirus pandemic, the league created a safe haven for basketball, a sanitized environment that will come with a bill of nearly a quarter-billion dollars.
When rumors of the bubble first hit the news cycle, eyebrows were raised all around. Could the NBA, a professional sports league, do what the world's governments and superpowers failed to do? Could they really keep COVID-19 more than six feet away and finish the season without fear of an outbreak while every country on the planet was shut down in an effort to do just that? Could the players really be so diligent, so vigilant in ways their fellow Americans could not or would not to ensure they did not catch the virus and spread it to their teammates?
It turns out the answer was yes to all of those questions. It still feels impossible, even now that it's all over. We here in America still can't walk outside without fear of contracting coronavirus, and yet 22 teams successfully played dozens of games of basketball without a single positive test throughout the duration. It is rare for anybody to understand they're viewing history in the making, but that's what all of 2020 has been like, and the conclusion of the 2020 NBA season was the same.
The bubble was important in so many different ways. Players threw around all their weight to raise awareness about social injustice in the country. The Milwaukee Bucks drew the attention of the whole country when they sat out a game in protest, calling the Attorney General of Wisconsin rather than taking the floor. Press conferences were dedicated to discussing individuals like Breonna Taylor. These players, more than any time in history, wanted to be agents of change.
The moving parts required to make this happen are nearly incomprehensible. The resources, the manpower, the willingness to commit by the hundreds of people living in Disney hotels. Given the vast scope of all that, this should not have been successful. But it was.
The bubble was great. It was crucial. It provided an escape for many people who were drowning in the apocalyptic reality of the country, yet still reminded us all of what's most important and what's at stake as we continue to live through the global pandemic. With all that said, let us hope we never, ever have to do it again.
I will miss basketball, but not the bubble. The players definitely feel the same way. We got used to no fans, but that absence was still felt, especially last night as the Lakers danced with the Larry O'Brien trophy in eerie silence. No viewer will yearn for the sound of sneakers squeaking on the parquet, the sound echoing in an empty gym.
The bubble will go down in history as perhaps the NBA's greatest achievement. And it should. But it will be nice when basketball can be played in the way we've gotten used to over the last half-century. That's no sure thing, but Adam Silver said even back in August that the bubble was not a tenable long-term play. Whenever the season does start up again, it won't be like what we watched these past few months. It may not be normal as we understand it, but it won't be like this. Hopefully. If it is, something (or many things) went horribly wrong.
The bubble will forever be a unique moment in time for basketball. It should be celebrated as the Herculean task it was. The NBA did the impossible. Now it's over.