Quarantine has left us with a lot more time on our hands than we’re used to, and I’m certainly no exception to this rule. Because this connotes being largely trapped inside if you’re in the Bay, I’ve been forced — strong-armed and browbeaten, really — into watching a lot more YouTube videos from bed.
Even NBA stars quarantining inside the Disney bubble in Orlando, Florida, seem to have ample downtime, which has made them get just as creative as the layman. Matisse Thybulle is one such player, and his solution to quarantine — quite the opposite of mine — was making YouTube videos.
On July 11, the rookie Philadelphia 76ers guard posted a video to his newly minted YouTube channel titled “Welcome To The Bubble – Day 1.” The video shows him and his teammates arriving in Orlando, figuring out the inner workings of their foreign environment and adjusting to new protocols, practices and policies. The video is as lighthearted as it is illuminating, showcasing the airtight procedures and health precautions taken within the bubble, as well as the oddity of a world where professional athletes live and interact only with one another.
Thybulle’s vlog was an instant hit — in just more than a month, the video has garnered more than 1.2 million views and an outpouring of support from fans. The former University of Washington player has accumulated 378,000 YouTube subscribers and has since released eight more videos, five of which have a million or more views.
The vlogs depict a slice of life inside the bubble that seems almost fantastical — players from teams across the league recreate, dine, relax and bond together when they’re not on the court going toe to toe. Thybulle and his teammates explore the random quarantine endeavors inside the bubble, from golf to pool volleyball to cornhole to boating, all of which they’re laughably bad at.
Thybulle shares humorous details about his everyday life in Orlando, which make the videos heartening and relatable, even considering he’s a 6’5” NBA player and I’m a barely 5’1” sports journalist whose biggest claim to fame is pulling up next to Joe Ingles at a stoplight. The vlogs are almost entrancing with their ability to give such an intimate glimpse into an environment that already seems dreamlike. By showing that these players are people who also struggle with the unfamiliarity of being isolated, Thybulle renders them more emotionally accessible than they were even before the pandemic.
But beyond being a shelter-in-place, boredom-absolving staple, Thybulle’s vlogs show that the NBA has taken full advantage of what has otherwise been an unfortunate and devastating year.
Almost all of Thybulle’s vlogs depict the 76ers in team meetings devoted entirely to discussing strategies for pioneering social justice not only in Philadelphia, but in the United States at large. Tobias Harris and Kyle O’Quinn, two 76ers players who are carefully documented in the vlog because of their friendship with Thybulle, have been extremely vocal and profound with their comments on the Black Lives Matter movement and how athletes can aid it by providing a platform for its ideals.
While there is much work to be done, the NBA as a whole has done a better job than any other professional league has in making space for demonstrations and resistance. Players don jerseys with words and phrases calling for racial justice instead of their names on the backs. “Black Lives Matter” is the only lettering adorning the physical court and is showcased during every game — all other messages, symbols and logos besides the lines and the NBA emblem are virtually displayed on the broadcast. Thanks to Commissioner Adam Silver’s abrogation of a policy requiring players to stand, athletes are now permitted to kneel during the national anthem, and most of them consistently and unitedly have.
Thybulle’s vlogs illustrate that while the NBA bubble can be just as entertaining for players as it is for fans, the league and players are well aware of the influence they have right now. All eyes are on the NBA, literally. Not only does it have thousands of sports-famished quarantined devotees staying glued to their TVs for playoffs, but other professional sports leagues are also tuning in to take notes on how to safely return to play and host a viable season (except for the MLB, apparently).
The NBA has done a fantastic job of listening to its players, addressing their concerns, keeping athletes healthy and supporting their demands, all while balancing the corporate and monetary needs of the league. Thybulle’s vlogs, likewise, are just another manifestation of giving players an adequate platform to amplify the voices of their community and themselves in a time when staying articulate and educated has never been more important.