Playing it safe during the pandemic: How the 2020 NBA bubble benefitted the players

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The year 2020 was an absolute let down for players and sports fans around the world. The deadly pandemic that took more than a million lives had people cowering inside their homes in fear. All major tournaments and matches had to be either cancelled or postponed. Gamblers and sports bettors who regularly took part in betting on football and basketball matches went in search of new hobbies and entertainment sources such as playing online poker on casino apps.

But nobody was ready to entirely give up and be passive regarding the situation around them. Humans always find a way to adapt and survive, and this happened in the case of this year’s NBA tournaments.

What is the NBA bubble?

The National Basketball Association devised a plan to carry out the tournaments while ensuring everyone’s safety. For this, they had to create a protected environment inhabited only by the authorised individuals.

The Disney World Campus in Orlando was chosen as the ideal location to carry out their plan. The Walt Disney World Resort was selected because of the massive area, and how it could easily be separated from the regions surrounding it. The bubble remained relatively safe even when the number of Covid-19 cases soared high in the rest of the state.

The bubble consisted of multiple hotels, arenas and restaurants that could accommodate all 22 teams, their coaches and other necessary individuals. Each team was permitted to bring 35 people to the bubble. The authorities created a rulebook that everyone who lived at or visited the NBA bubble had to follow. Only the players, coaches, essential workers and the officials were permitted to reside within the bubble.

The NBA tournament was suspended in March 2020, and teams were invited into the bubble by July. Once they entered the bubble, the players had to undergo a quarantine period of 48 hours after which they took a COVID-19 test. Measures were also put in place to safely extract those who tested positive from the bubble without risking others’ health. Once they had tested negative, players could then go around in specific areas within the bubble.

All the individuals were required to wear masks as much as possible and maintain maximum distance from the others. They were also given devices that sent alerts when individuals stood too close to each other for extended periods.

Everybody living and working in the bubble had to undergo regular testing, and even reporters who came in were only allowed once they tested negative. The players’ food was prepared by chefs who also lived on the premises, but they never came in direct contact with each other. The food that was ordered through the website was packaged correctly and delivered to the players’ hotels by employees who covered themselves in protective equipment. The chefs were also required to wear masks and gloves while preparing the food in the kitchen.

Other major sports leagues in the country witnessed significant issues because those involved were not contained in a bubble and were not following the proper safety protocols. Many players in these leagues also tested positive for Covid-19 while the NBA says that not a single player in their bubble has tested positive.

The creation and maintenance of this bubble also required a considerable number of resources and expenses which are not always available to smaller leagues.

The advantages provided by the bubble to the players

Being confined to a specific area for a few months with very little exposure to the outside world might feel restrictive to those involved in the games. Players returning to the resumed matches after several months at home would have had enough time to rest and recover from any previous injuries. For the players, staying in the bubble meant that they no longer had to travel long distances after every single match. The travel fatigue that they experienced every time they landed in a new city could be entirely avoided while living in the bubble.

The lack of travel also meant that the players were at a reduced risk of coming in contact with infected individuals and being tested positive. Due to the regular tests conducted in the bubble, the players were much safer in their environment than they would have been outside the bubble.

The number of injuries that occurred among the players during matches went down while the recovery rate of injured players increased considerably when compared to the previous NBA seasons. This meant that wounded players missed fewer games.

Serious drawbacks of the NBA bubble

Many of the major players who were part of the NBA bubble found the whole arrangement to be extremely strenuous. Though they were safe from Covid-19 infections, they no longer had access to the outside world, and their lives were confirmed to rigid routines outlined in accordance with the protocols. They also missed the familiar rush they received from the hundreds of supportive fans who yelled out their names as they played.

Players had to make sure that they followed the numerous rules put in place and spent large amounts of their time on their own, feeling completely lonely and isolated. The food provided to the players was somewhat limited on account of the number of chefs who could be employed while keeping the safety of everyone in mind. Players raised concerns and complaints regarding the food that was initially served within the NBA bubble, with some of them taking extreme steps such as getting delivered food from outside the area. Though this might not seem like a big deal, players who came in contact with unauthorised individuals had to be quarantined for a definite period.

NBA tournaments in the future

Despite the new arrangements, the NBA managed to gain over a billion dollars in revenue with the bubble system. Though this might appear to be an ideal solution from the outside, someone not directly involved in the bubble might find it hard to comprehend the struggles of those confined to this area for several months. Not to mention, renting a vast resort, arenas, etc. and maintaining safety protocols for everyone from players to the workers involved created a financial burden on the league.

For several reasons, the NBA does not believe that sustaining the NBA bubble model for future tournaments will be possible despite the pandemic still raging on in the country. The association has decided to revert to traditional modes of conducting matches while enforcing strict rules to keep everyone safe. Everyone involved in the NBA has agreed to comply with these rules though there will be a much higher chance of getting infected with Covid-19.

The league decided to classify those involved into two tiers. Tier 1 included the players, coaches and other essential members, totalling under 45. Others who travel and work with the team were grouped in Tier 2. The Tier 2 members had to wear masks and maintain social distance constantly. They were asked to keep up only the bare minimum direct contact with Tier 1 individuals.

Among the many protocols put in place for the training that began in December, Covid-19 testing was to be conducted daily for the players. The family members of the players were also tested twice each week. If a player tested positive but was asymptomatic, he was to be removed from the team for ten days, and after this period he would take part in several tests and his abilities would be monitored. The player will get back to his team training sessions only after training on his own for a few days.

In case the player who had tested positive showed symptoms, he was to be separated immediately, and after his symptoms disappear, he would have to stay away for ten more days. Once this quarantine period has ended, the player would work out alone and join the team after assessment.

One of the numerous rules set forth by the league prohibited players from entering establishments such as pubs, bars, clubs, pools etc. To prevent social interaction with strangers or those not directly involved with the NBA, players were also advised to stay away from crowds consisting of more than fifteen individuals.

To ensure that the rules were being followed, the league decided to conduct inspections without warning and set up a tip line to receive anonymous notifications regarding any violations. Severe penalties were also put in place to motivate the players. These penalties included a reduction in the player’s salary, warnings, and even suspensions. Not just individual players, but entire teams would also be penalised if seen to be violating any safety protocols.

Summing up

The year 2020 forced people worldwide to come up with innovative ideas to carry on with their lives and activities. Though the world of sports took a severe blow, it too has been recovering and finding ways to exist while staying protected from the virus. If a model such as the NBA bubble does not turn out to be viable for sports leagues, they will have to come up with better, innovative ideas that will keep everyone safe during the tournaments.