Basketball fans are forever indebted to the 2020 NBA Bubble. The Bubble offered a satisfactory conclusion to what seemed to be a lost season after the league’s shutdown in March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through virus concerns and civil unrest, the league’s leaders successfully traversed a logistical limbo, and the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned NBA champions.
But the Bubble also spawned a malevolent, now inescapable notion that persists in YouTube comments and on Twitter: The “Mickey Mouse ring.” It’s a reductionist phrase that came about in response to the Lakers’ win in the Bubble, which was held within ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
Basically, a Mickey Mouse ring is a championship that is not earned and seems to come “easily.” Those who apply the idea to Los Angeles point to the fact that the Lakers didn’t face their fellow Staples Center inhabitants, the Clippers, in the playoffs, and Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragić were injured in the decisive series against the Heat. They also suggest that the general chaos of the season disrupted teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks that otherwise may have tested the Lakers in the playoffs.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series 16 days later, they faced the same libelous hoopla. Detractors cited MLB’s 60-game season — down from the usual 162 amid pandemic concerns — as the central excuse that invalidated Los Angeles’ first World Series win since 1988.
To those detractors, I say save it.
Now, for the sake of transparency, perhaps I ought to disclose that I am a Dodgers fan, but I don’t think that influences my opinion on this matter.
Also, it can be difficult to discern how frequently people who comment about Mickey Mouse rings genuinely believe that the championships in question are lesser and how many are mere provocateurs. Many seem to be the latter. I’ll take the idea at face value, though, for the sake of argument.
The Mickey Mouse ring label persists in our current world, where sports are virtually back to normal. NBA Twitter trolls claim this year’s finals are still a battle for a Mickey Mouse ring because the two remaining teams each faced injury-riddled squads en route to the NBA Finals.
What bothers me about this is that it seems to suggest that there has ever been a time when professional sports championships were created equally. That’s never been the case.
Large-market teams in desirable locations such as California and Florida will always have an easier time attracting free agency talent than the likes of teams based in, say, Wisconsin. Does that devalue every victory by a large-market team? Does it mean that those teams can only ever win Mickey Mouse rings?
Not all championships are created equal, but that’s always been true; the pandemic didn’t make it so.
On paper, though, and in the hearts of those who can call themselves champions, every championship is sweet. On the road to a ring, the eventual champion can only beat the teams placed in front of them, within the season length. Whether or not those opponents were plagued by injury or the season was shortened due to a pandemic or lockout ought not to be the focus.
Every championship is earned, in that, a lifetime of hard work was necessary for every member of a winning team to make it to the top. So let’s put the idea of a Mickey Mouse ring to rest, once and for all.