Amidst an atmosphere of uncertainty, the NBA is finally coming back in action at Disney World in Florida, after the unforeseen four months hiatus brought about by the COVID pandemic.
The action up ahead:
LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are set to face off in the Los Angeles derby between the Lakers and the Clippers, while the Utah Jazz launches a rebooted campaign against the New Orleans Pelicans. As the virus rages on, having already claimed thousands of lives in the US, these two games are the first steps in a meticulous plan designed to resume and conduct the rest of the season safely.
Bubble Ball: the requisite safety measures:
A massive quarantine zone has been created inside Disney World’s 40 square mile campus in Orlando, called the “bubble”. All 22 teams are based inside the “bubble” to minimize risks. Three venues inside the ESPN World Wide of Sports complex inside the park will be hosting the games with no spectators and minimal media presence. The players are all lodged in complete physical isolation from the outside world, at three hotels located inside Disney World. The highest levels of restrictions are imposed at each location.
Before admission, all the players had to spend 48 hours in isolation and obtain two negative results from COVID-19 tests. Infrequent testing will continue inside the bubble as well. The project has until now had a smooth start. However, some multi-millionaire stars like James have joked that life inside the bubble feels like a prison sentence.
The ramifications of the Bubble Ball:
The most recent rounds of testing have produced zero positive cases amongst the players and the practice games have been conducted smoothly. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been quoted by the New York Times as saying, “It requires significant sacrifice from our players,”
He also said, “From my standpoint, it’s going very well, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re on the right track,”
“But I also recognize what we’re doing has not been done before, and the competition is just beginning. He went on to say that the real test will start when the players start commingling, playing real-time basketball without masks on and without any scope of physical distancing.
Although there have been some initial hiccups as the players settled into this new environment. Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams was photographed at an Atlanta strip club while he was on a trip to attend a family funeral. Resultantly a 10 days quarantine was imposed on him
The Sacramento Kings’ Richaun Holmes left the bubble to pick-up a delivery of take-out food and was also put back in quarantine.
In other news:
One thing which has prominently made it inside the bubble is the massive furor caused by the death of George Floyd. Players may be witnessed wearing jerseys bearing messages of solidarity to messages that support the protest movement. The messages ranged from “I Can’t Breathe” to “Justice Now” and “Education Reform.” Colossal “Black Lives Matter” slogans have also been painted on each court.
The stakes are high:
The limelight will follow LeBron and his Lakers teammates as they endeavor to finish on top at the season end in October. The first season went poorly for the Lakers as they failed to make the playoff in LA. However, they made a whopping comeback as James led the team to the top of the Western Conference before the pandemic hit the world.
All the Western Conference teams namely- the Lakers, the Clippers, the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Houston Rockets have already qualified for the playoffs starting from 17th August.
However, it is the Milwaukee Bucks from the Eastern Conference, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who poses to be the main challenge for the Lakers’ dream of winning a fourth championship. The Bucks, finishing indisputably at the top of the Eastern conference before the hiatus, are looking forward to winning their first title in nearly half a century.
Having grown up in poverty in Greece as the son of Nigerian immigrants, Antetokounmpo scoffs when presented with the idea that NBA players are having a hard time staying in the bubble. He said that the position and stature of people and where they belonged in life never matters as they always have something to complain about and cry about.
When he was young, he lived with his four brothers in an apartment in Greece which was smaller than the suite at the hotel where he is stationed presently. Therefore, he is focused on enjoying the moment. Oklahoma City Thunder’s Steven Adams also shares this sentiment with Antetokounmpo, as is evident from him saying, “Let’s be clear mate, this is not Syria. We’re living in a bloody resort.”