Section: Sports

Pro basketball bubbles prove successful despite major obstacles

Pro basketball bubbles prove successful despite major obstacles

The 2020 NBA season culminated in a Lakers Finals victory over the Heat in six games. | SCOTT ABLEMAN VIA FLICKR

This season was an unconventional one for both the NBA and the WNBA. Despite the seasons’ difficulties, brought on by the pandemic, these professionals were able to put forth impressive showings while ensuring the safety of all personnel. 

Both the NBA and WNBA had to make drastic adjustments, not just to general gameplay, but also to their lifestyles during competition. After months of serious deliberation, each league created an isolated campus, nicknamed “the bubble,” with strict protocols to limit virus exposure (the WNBA’s campus was referred to as the Wubble). Following three months in the “bubble,” the NBA season concluded with the Los Angeles Lakers winning in the Finals over the Miami Heat (4-2), while the WNBA season finished with the Seattle Storm conquering the Las Vegas Aces (4-0). 

Twenty-two NBA teams arrived at the Disney World campus for a minimum stay of six weeks — the two finalists wouldn’t see life outside of the bubble for over three months. All personnel besides players, such as coaches and journalists, were hosted in a separate secluded community, Lake Buena Vista, just a five-minute bus ride away from Disney. The Wubble was located 100 miles south, at Bradenton’s IMG Academy, a boarding school focused on athletics. 

In both the NBA and WNBA bubbles, health concerns were at the forefront of residents’ daily lives. Along with daily testing, league officials provided those living in the bubbles with other protective equipment including thermometers to log daily temperatures, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers. The NBA took extreme caution, with the understanding that much was still unknown about the virus. 

Those affiliated with both the NBA and WNBA often took to Twitter or spoke to the media about the challenges they faced while living in the bubble. Los Angeles Lakers star forward LeBron James said in a press conference, “I’ve had numerous nights and days thinking about leaving. I think everyone has . . . There’s not one person who hasn’t [thought], ‘I’ve got to get the hell out of here.’” 

While the insular nature of this environment proved difficult for many, others felt a unique sense of community in the bubble. New York Times sports writer Marc Stein described his own experience inside the NBA bubble. He noted he was disappointed to leave the “first of its kind NBA village.” Stein wrote that, in the bubble, he was able to have closer interactions with players and coaches, due to the tighter quarters, as well as serendipitous experiences — like seeing Denver Nuggets Coach Mike Malone biking across the campus on his way to the meal room. 

Meanwhile in the Wubble, conditions were less than ideal. ESPN writer and podcaster Kayla Johnson was outspoken about her experience in the Wubble, even about the less than desirable parts. On July 7, Johnson tweeted an image of a lackluster meal option offered to WNBA players. Washington Mystics guard Leilani Mitchell also complained of less than nutritious vegetarian options in the Wubble. In response to these concerns, the WNBA adjusted meal plans following the first two weeks in the Wubble.

Despite the complications surrounding life in the bubble, both leagues were successful in completing their seasons with no positive COVID-19 tests. The NBA’s implementation of an isolated campus was estimated to have cost over $150 million.

The conclusion of the NBA and WNBA seasons satisfied Americans’ desire to watch professional sports and feel the rush of the Finals’ high-stakes competition. Many fans were also struck by James leading the Lakers to their first championships since 2009 in a 4-2 series victory over the Miami Heat. James was named Finals MVP — making him the first player in NBA history to be named Finals MVP on three different teams. The WNBA season concluded with the Seattle Storm sweeping the Las Vegas Aces. Despite the peculiar environment experienced by both players and viewers at home seeing stadiums with no fans, the safe return and conclusion of the NBA and WNBA seasons was a welcomed one. 


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