With previously injured players like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant coming back, rookies from the draft looking to find their feet, free agent signings hoping to break through and ongoing trades changing the league, there’s a lot to look forward to in the NBA. Last season, the NBA went on an over four-month hiatus starting in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were many concerns over how the season would continue, but the league eventually settled on creating a bubble in Orlando, Fla. Twenty-two teams were invited onto the Disney campus to carry out the rest of their season, and 16 teams entered the playoffs.
Although there were a few instances of misconduct (*cough cough* Danuel House), most players and coaches adhered strictly to the COVID-19 guidelines within the bubble, which paid off as there were zero cases of infection on campus. Athletes across the campus behaved professionally; they were always photographed with masks on when not playing and coaches and reporters frequently urged others to do the same. Much like how the NBA addressed the Black Lives Matter movement, the league was a leader in how to conduct sports during COVID-19. All fans were virtual, with the likes of former President Barack Obama and Lil Wayne lining the walls of the gym.
With another season coming up, the same concerns for COVID-19 have not gone away, although it’s hard to tell from the NFL season that’s going on right now. Back in March, the NFL announced that they would hold a full season without being in a bubble setting like the NBA or NHL. There is some kind of testing program for the players and staff, but with traveling and the admittance of fans, the season was doomed from the start. Although the stadiums will hold a reduced capacity of fans, the number for any game is still in the thousands.
As of Week 12 in the NFL, there has been a significant spike in COVID-19 cases and teams like the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens are without key players. The NBA is going to have a similar plan come December, but what they really should do is learn from the mistakes of the current NFL season. It’s unacceptable for the NBA to hold playoffs and finals in a bubble back in July but have any other plan for the 2020–21 season, a season that will start amid the holidays when the pandemic is worse than ever before. Players will likely not want to transition back into bubble life as it means sacrificing time away from their families, making another NBA bubble far out of reach (although ideal). Nonetheless, it’s not too late to make changes to the season that will protect players and fans alike by having empty stadiums and less traveling.