The first set of scrimmages in the National Basketball Association’s bubble environment got under way yesterday. To be sure, the four matches on tap weren’t representative of the quality expected from the restart to the 2019-20 season. That said, teeming fans deprived of pro hoops competition since it was halted by the novel coronavirus pandemic last March were willing to overlook the fact that they bore witness to more misses than makes, and more miscues than moments of marvel. They understood that all and sundry still needed to adjust to the demands of full-bore action, not to mention the unique court setup at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Considering the circumstances surrounding the league’s efforts to complete its interrupted campaign, yesterday’s set-tos proved remarkable in and of themselves. With infection a continuing threat, their completion sans incident served to inject more optimism into what can best be described as an experiment. Health and safety measures are constantly being checked and, when necessary, fortified. On the flipside, they are also constantly being challenged — not out of a desire to highlight their failings, but by human nature.
Indeed, the so-called bubble can burst anytime. Daily testing and the willingness of players and personnel to adhere to set regulations have so far led to zero positive results, but the threat of a breach can never be eradicated. It takes only one adverse development for the fragility of the campus to be exposed. And, creditably, the NBA is ready; because not all employees of the Walt Disney World are within its purview, it, in fact, expects infection to be a matter of when and not if. What it’s gearing up for, while armed with no small measure of hope: containment.
In this regard, the league is candid at best. It doesn’t yet know at what point in a breach will it be compelled to halt proceedings anew. After the restart, up to how many players in quarantine will it accept? And “who” may even be more important: What if, for instance, reigning and presumptive Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo tests positive for the virus? It’s only proper for officials to discuss these and countless other scenarios this early, and, at the same time, understandable for them to have no solutions — at least not yet.
Amid all the haziness, one thing’s clear, though: The eventual champions will have earned their spoils. If there is any asterisk accompanying their achievement, it will be in recognition of their capacity to hurdle unprecedented obstacles.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.