Will The NBA Bubble Actually Work?

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There’s a great deal of anticipation building for the return of sports. There’s also some trepidation.

One sport that already has its plan in place is the NBA. Starting next week, teams will begin reporting to Orlando to begin practicing in advance of an expanded playoff season that tips off at the end of the month.

Twenty-two teams will quarantine together in what has become known as the “bubble.”

Will it be safe? Will players and others stay healthy long enough to make it all the way to the Finals in October?

That’s what we’re going to find out.

Most teams have already been practicing at their home facilities in advance of traveling to Orlando. One such team, the Denver Nuggets, have already had to shut things down because of several positive tests, though the Nuggets’ travel cohort—players, coaches, staff—is still expected to travel to Florida.

If the situation with the Nuggets proves to be a mere hiccup, even if it’s followed by more hiccups with other teams but on the whole nobody gets terribly ill and teams are still able to play each other, we could be in for a real gem of a playoff season in a time in our lives when we need it very badly.

But there are two ways in which things could go south, one with continued play, and one with a discontinuation of the planned playoff format.

The first way would involve a few players getting sick in Orlando once teams start playing each other, with varying levels of sickness but nothing too serious, not enough for the NBA to shut things down. The danger in that hypothetical situation would be that players might get spooked about playing at full strength, knowing that they may be on the court with an infected player. Might they be hesitant to get close to others, knowing that it may lead to them getting sick? That kind of shot to players’ confidence could be disastrous to the high level of competition that basketball is known for.

The second situation involves lots of players, coaches and others inside the bubble getting sick. Quarantined together, it could spread from one team to the next like the plague that it is. Some people might become very ill, including hospitalizations. That’s the worst-case scenario. It’s got to be in the back of everyone’s minds at this point.

The best-case scenario is straightforward. Minimal to no infections. Lots of wonderful, competitive play. A resounding, if unusual season that gives us all something to be hopeful for. Who knows, maybe even an unexpected team like the Portland Trail Blazers will rise to the top—a team that may not have made the playoffs had the regular season progressed as planned.

At this point, anything is possible.

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Paul Redman

Paul Redman is a writer and chef in Seattle who grew up in the Midwest. His work has appeared in print and online, including San Francisco magazine, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Contrary. He eats too many chicken wings and cracks way too many dad jokes and food puns. Follow him on Twitter @predman.

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