Bubbles don’t always burst

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It has been more than two weeks since the Los Angeles Lakers took down the Miami Heat in six games to claim their 17th NBA championship. The Lakers’ victory is being celebrated by all, but perhaps no one individual experienced a larger victory than NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

The NBA season was suspended in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In fact, the NBA’s immediate action following Rudy Gobert’s positive test was the first mainstream decision to make people aware of the coronavirus in the United States. Fans were left hopeless and without sports for months until Silver implemented a self-contained NBA bubble in Orlando at the end of July.

There were questions as to how the bubble approach would go over, with concerns about player safety and competitive balance being cited. However, with the 2020 NBA season now in our rearview mirror, the success of Silver’s plan of action simply cannot be overstated.

From a pure basketball standpoint, fans were treated to some of the best playoff series in recent memory. Without the obstacles of fan distractions and traveling between games, players were forced to focus exclusively on basketball. Shooters shot, and shot well. In what players labeled the most mentally challenging playoffs ever, with all limiting factors stripped away, the bubble provided the “basketball in a vacuum” scenario that fans dream about. Silver’s bubble truly answered the core question: Which team is the best at playing basketball?

Rising stars such as Devin Booker, Luka Dončić and T.J. Warren cemented themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the seasons to come, while LeBron James reminded everyone that if you come at the king, you best not miss. New storylines emerged for NBA Reddit to dissect — covering subjects such as the Lakers winning in honor of Kobe Bryant, the Clippers’ historic choke job against the Denver Nuggets and the redemption arc of Jimmy Butler — the “association” is set up for an exciting offseason.

Beyond basketball, the greatest accomplishment of Silver’s NBA bubble came not on the court but in everything that transpired off of it. Starting July 15, the bubble saw coaches, training staff, Disney staff, media members and 346 NBA players, and later on, permitted guests and family members to enter the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus. When the season concluded Oct. 11, there were exactly zero positive COVID-19 test results.

Silver listened to science, outlining strict safety guidelines, stressing social distancing when possible and emphasizing the use of masks. To nobody’s surprise, it paid off. The NBA bubble’s success in preventing the spread of COVID-19 simply underscores the apparent failure of the Trump administration to do just that. If our leaders attacked the pandemic with the same sense of responsibility and competence that Silver did, perhaps the Lakers would be able to hold a championship parade right now.

As leagues such as the NFL and MLB struggle with the spread of COVID-19, the NBA’s bubble approach continues to look better. Look no further than Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner testing positive for COVID-19 during the World Series clincher as proof that bubbles don’t burst.

The NBA season came during a moment of reckoning for our country. It is no secret that racial inequality lives on in the United States, and the intersection of sports and politics remains a hotly-debated topic. Judging from the bubble, it is clear where Silver and the players in his league stand: They refuse to “shut up and dribble.”

The NBA went beyond simply painting “Black Lives Matter” on the court and permitting messages on the backs of jerseys. On Aug. 26, three playoff games were postponed following the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to boycott their game in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake. The decision dominated the day’s news cycle and reminded viewers that there are issues bigger than basketball plaguing the world.

After a meeting that almost led to players boycotting the rest of the season, an agreement was reached that committed owners to open arenas as voting centers. Players such as James helped start More Than A Vote, a voting rights group aimed toward combating voter suppression and urging people to vote. Simply put, Silver and the NBA were committed to change.

Bubble basketball was entertaining, but its impact extends far beyond 94 feet. In a season where it wasn’t thought possible, we got a champion: Silver. And there should be no asterisk next to that.

Kabir Rao covers men’s basketball and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].