The NBA is still on hiatus and there is mounting optimism that the league will return to normal at some point soon. According to the Boston Globe, the players are supportive of a return to the hardwood, too. Yet, expectations need tempering in regards to the quality of basketball that will grace our screens at the beginning. Like us, the players have been unable to do much outside of their home for several months now.
With a lack of game practice under their belts and all previously built momentum now firmly out of the window, how much stock should we place on a team’s championship success this year? Does winning a ring in 2020 come with an asterisk in the history books? More importantly, after weighing risk and reward, is the return of the NBA season in a global pandemic even worth it?
Should the NBA return this season, it will be operating within a bubble with human presence within the game and around the team as minimal as possible. A bubble dictates that no crowds, media, and possibly even family are to be with the team throughout the remainder of basketball activities. In essence, a bubble equates to watching basketball in its purest form, far removed from the spotlights and halftime shows we have grown accustomed since the NBA’s birth.
Basketball takes place all across the world, on the street courts of local parks, or pick up games at a local gym. There are no announcers or a crowd surpassing more than a few hundred at best; instead, it’s about playing the game we all love. This concept can resonate with the purist in us, yet, in practice, the spectacle is what draws our attention. Fan interaction and entertainment value will be sucked out of that vacuum.
Furthermore, the size of the bubble is now a topic of discussion. Should the season resume where it left off and incorporate all NBA rosters? Or does the NBA jump straight to the playoffs, effectively halving the number of players required to reside within a said bubble?
Scientifically speaking, the most reasonable assumption is the NBA goes with the latter and opts to jump straight into the playoffs, using the current NBA standings to dictate seedings. Jumping to the playoffs is the most sensical option. While skipping directly to the playoffs seems unfair, Cinderella stories scarcely happen in the NBA and a team outside of the current playoff picture is highly unlikely to have made waves in the post-season anyway.
When operating under this assumption that the season resumes at the initial point of the playoffs, this Summer League/March Madness hybrid is born. In a recent piece, Tim Bontemps and Brian Windhorst explained how the college style format would result in almost no rest days in this abbreviated format. On top of that, returning from a long layoff and then being thrust back into daily high-level basketball is not conducive to presenting aesthetically-pleasing basketball. The league would be asking its players to go full bore after spending the last three months in quarantine.
Playing within this bubble also removes homecourt advantage and any semblance of the vibrant environment of the playoffs. Playing on neutral ground with no hostile atmosphere inevitably decreases the level of difficulty when it’s a make-or-break game. As Professor Parquet highlighted earlier this week, the Celtics have both overcome the odds on the road or been fueled by the Garden crowd in some of their biggest games in history. Imagine if the Celtics won this proposed playoff tournament. Does this banner produce the same pride as those won by Celtics legends of the past?
Ask yourself this: would Larry Bird or Kevin Garnett have been satisfied with raising a banner under these circumstances? What about Bill Russell or John Havlicek? “Anything is possible” and the crowd storming the court after “Havlicek stole the ball” don’t happen. NBA players are intensely competitive and winning in what is essentially a “watered down” competition should not sit well with them. The road to Banner 18 has been a long one, but winning it under these pretenses would leave a blemish on the illustrious history of the franchise, one which would remain there for the remainder of time.
Future stardom awaits Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown; it would be a travesty to tarnish their careers with a questionable banner. Forever, their names would be discredited when said alongside previous legends of the TD Garden parquet, and all for playing when they were told to and achieving what they’re paid to deliver.
Being permanently marked with an asterisk removes some of the joy, a blemish resides on the end goal from the start. For teams like the LA Clippers, if they were to come out victorious, their only championship is already tainted. Would it be worth the investment in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George?
Here’s the kicker. too. After the bubble bursts, Opening Day next season has to move back. Utilizing the bubble theory permanently changes the months that basketball takes place moving forwards. Next season starts late, so it finishes late, then the following season gets pushed back before we know it and basketball now begins in late November. Is a sub-par version of the playoffs now worth the trade off later? You would assume not.
We all miss basketball. We miss the comradery it brings into our lives, the emotional roller-coaster each possession brings, and most importantly, we miss the escape from our regular routines. For the duration of a game, nothing else matters. There are no bills to pay or deadlines to meet. All we care about is who missed their rotation or “man, that was a sweet pass.” This year, that joy ended abruptly, and when that happens, the natural human instinct is to find a way to get it back.
But the bubble, the college tournament-style playoffs, and the upheaval of future NBA schedules all point to one thing: bringing back basketball for the sake of bringing it back is a bad idea. Instead, allow the world to recover from this pandemic, enable the players to begin their improvement regimes early, and then, when basketball returns in October, we will appreciate it in all its glory more than ever before.