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NBA ‘bubble’ concept: How it would work and the questions that still remain

The road to the entrance of Walt Disney World has few cars Monday, March 16, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios were closed along with other theme parks around the state to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been nearly two months since the NBA suspended its season because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s looking like it could be at least another couple of months before we potentially see games again, but what could it look like if the NBA comes back this season?

On Friday afternoon, NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke to players on a conference call and told them that a decision on returning wouldn’t have to be made until mid-June, that there would be at least three weeks of training time before play resumes and not to expect fans at games until there is a vaccine for COVID-19.

Additionally, Silver said playing games in one or two isolated locations would be safer than trying to play in home markets.

The ‘bubble’ concept

The idea that Silver and most pundits seem to be leaning toward is something that has become known colloquially as a “bubble” concept.

Essentially, every team, player, coach and staffer would be isolated at a specific neutral location. Games would be played at the location and players would live there and stay isolated from the rest of the population until the decided stretch of games is completed.

Locations

Orlando and Las Vegas have quickly become front runners for the NBA to carry out an isolated basketball bubble.

Las Vegas is where the NBA holds its annual Summer League, and of course it has many hotels which include restaurants and accommodations that would be able to house the people necessary for something as massive as an NBA bubble.

The most recent location that has seemed to catch on a little more than Vegas is Orlando, and very specifically Disney World.

Not only has Disney chairman Bob Iger been on board of governors calls with the NBA and been in contact with Silver, but the Orlando retreat is unique in what it offers. It is a private property with hotels, restaurants, accommodations and a sports complex with basketball courts which are broadcast ready. It doesn’t hurt that the Walt Disney Company also owns ESPN.

Logistics

While the idea of a bubble and keeping players isolated — in order to finish the season, complete the playoffs, or both — seems like a decent concept, it is just that; a concept, and it’s just the first step.

Silver has said that in order for the idea to become a reality, the first priority would be to assure daily testing of all players and staff for the coronavirus so that there can be confidence in health and safety. Until testing is widespread and readily available to healthcare workers and those at risk in the general population, Silver is not willing to take tests that could go to others in order to use them for the sake of basketball.

After assuring the safety of everyone involved, there is a litany of details that would have to be ironed out. How would everyone get to Orlando or Las Vegas? Commercial travel? Chartered flights? Would they need to be quarantined and isolated before interacting with each other? Are families going to be accompanying those headed to the self-contained bubble city?

For those not associated with the NBA, there are concerns and logistical problems as well. There would have to be fully staffed hotels and restaurants. If those employees were able to come and go from the bubble, it would defeat the purpose. So, all of the employees would also need accommodations within the bubble.

Then there’s basketball to think about. The players are going to need time to get back into shape. Would they be playing out any regular season games or will they just play postseason ball? Would there be exhibitions? Will teams be playing seven-game playoff series?

The timing of everything matters, and how long the league would spend in a given city completing the 2019-20 season is important because there will be ripple effects that span through the draft, free agency and into the next season.

Concerns

While many support the bubble concept, there are many, including some players, who still have concerns, and rightfully so.

Prior to Friday’s conference call between players and Silver, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts spoke to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and noted that players were concerned that being isolated at Disney or anywhere else doesn’t mean that someone from the outside couldn’t come in or that someone could shirk the rules, leave and come back and potentially infect those in the bubble.

Those concerns were raised on the call with Silver, who was asked what would happen if someone within the bubble tested positive for COVID-19. Would everything have to be shut down all over again?

While Silver reiterated the need for daily testing available for all players and staff before the bubble concept could become a reality, it still doesn’t take away the fear that many players have.

“The questions have now evolved from, ‘Are we going to play again?’ to, ‘If we play, what are the risks going to look like?’” Roberts said.