No Bubble for the N.B.A. Season? the idea’s a Problem

As long, costly as well as emotionally draining as 2020 was for the N.B.A., beyond the universal strain of a global health crisis, not every one of those 366 days was dour. The league was applauded often for how the idea responded to the challenges.

Twelve days into a completely new year, as well as just three weeks into a completely new season, echoes of of which smartest-league-in-the-world praise are faint. The N.B.A.’s attempt to stage a high-intensity, face-to-face indoor team sport during a pandemic has quickly proved to be as complicated as feared. several games through the first 23 days of the 2020-21 schedule have been postponed because teams had too many players unavailable, either because of the league’s coronavirus health as well as safety protocols or injuries.

League officials had an inkling the idea might go like This particular. For the very first time, they released a schedule for only the first half of the season, to build in flexibility to cope with coronavirus-related interruptions. They anticipated turbulence after opening night was moved to Dec. 22 as well as braced for criticism for returning to play less than three months after completing a season in a bubble. Yet there was an unmistakable sense of rising anxiety leaguewide as general managers, players’ union representatives as well as team owners held meetings Monday as well as Tuesday from the wake of multiple postponements, even though a review of the league’s protocols had been planned between Jan. 6-13.

“This particular is usually the N.B.A. in 2021,” Stan Van Gundy, the coach of the completely new Orleans Pelicans, said Monday after his team’s game against the Dallas Mavericks was called off. “I know the idea’s cliché, although in This particular year, the idea’s absolutely true: the idea is usually literally one day at a time.”

Van Gundy also spoke about how the situation “scares me,” noting he is usually 61 years old. The coach’s candor, which doesn’t always land softly, will surely be appreciated by others from the game who don’t feel as emboldened or secure to speak up.

The league office, to be fair, might have preferred returning to a bubble like the restricted campus used to complete the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla. Officials initially proposed playing in regional bubbles, at least at the start of the season until vaccines were widely available, as a compromise. When pretty much no teams or players wanted to do any of of which again, largely because of the isolation as well as mental toll, the idea was agreed to start play in their home markets in December. of which was the timetable favored by the league’s television partners as well as, according to N.B.A. estimates, worth at least $500 million in preserved revenue versus waiting until January to give players more time off.

The league is usually determined not to pause the season, despite the mounting postponements, in part because officials believe even more players might be infected if they were not subject to the N.B.A.’s health protocols. Money must be assumed to be a key factor, in addition to any protective motivations, although the league’s ability to stick to of which stance as well as avoid at least a temporary pause is usually being severely tested. While January lives up to the dire projections of health experts who said the idea might be the pandemic’s worst month yet, multiple teams (Boston, Dallas, Miami as well as Philadelphia) are struggling to meet the minimum requirement of eight players in uniform for games.

“We are committed to proceeding with our industry, as well as we’re doing the idea with all the best science as well as adherence to the protocols, although ultimately we’re not in control,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said.

The league as well as players’ union announced alterations to the N.B.A.’s nearly 0 pages of health as well as safety guidelines on Tuesday, including instructions for players as well as team personnel to stay home “at all times” for at least the next two weeks outside of team as well as essential activities. For all the understandable unease at the moment, league officials have maintained of which amendments were always likely.

“We have a lot of protocols in place, although the protocols are kind of our starting point,” said John DiFiori, the N.B.A.’s director of sports medicine. “We made a lot of adjustments in Orlando as well as, truly, the idea’s the lesson of which we learned. This particular is usually an evolving situation — always — through the medical as well as scientific side, as well as just the experience of not being in a bubble as well as trying to manage the logistics of travel as well as people living in their communities as well as having life events of which occur.”

The conversation with DiFiori took place on Thursday, before Sixers guard Seth Curry was hustled off Philadelphia’s bench at a Nets game in Brooklyn when his coronavirus test result of which was supposed to arrive on Friday came back early — as well as came back positive. To of which point, there had been only one postponement: Houston’s season opener on Dec. 23 against Oklahoma City, when the Rockets could not field eight players in uniform.

Since the Sixers-Nets game, the idea has been chaos.

A lot of of which stems through how thoroughly the league insists on contact tracing after a positive test to try to prevent spread. The time-consuming nature of the tracing was a primary factor in postponements on Sunday (scuttling Miami’s ability to play the Celtics in Boston) as well as Monday (preventing Dallas through hosting completely new Orleans). although Tuesday’s completely new measures requiring team personnel to stay home as well as outlawing guests at team hotels were essentially an admission of which previous efforts to get everyone in a 46-person traveling party to behave as if they were ensconced in a bubble have fallen short.

A completely new set of stricter masking regulations was implemented as recently as Jan. 5, although the league mask policy on benches as well as flights as well as in team meetings was stiffened again Tuesday. The league also warned against “extended socializing” in a bid to curtail pregame as well as postgame greetings between players on opposing teams.

Whether these prove to be any more than cosmetic alterations depends on each team’s vigilance in enforcing them, along with the protocol officer assigned to each team by the league through a private security firm. Skeptics will point out of which the idea has always been against protocol for coaches to routinely pull down their masks to relay instructions to players, although the idea happens anyway.

Philadelphia Coach Doc Rivers revealed recently of which he was fined $10,000 by the league for doing so as well as called the idea “the right thing to do.” He has since asked one of his assistant coaches, Eric Hughes, the athletic trainer Kevin Johnson as well as “whoever else is usually behind me on the bench” to warn him when he is usually in violation.

“I bet 20 times they had to remind me to put the mask back on,” Rivers said. “The players can’t hear me through the mask, so I’m taking the idea down to talk as well as I forget to bring the idea up.”

One team I spoke to This particular week said of which the benches, locker rooms as well as planes had been identified as prime trouble spots for keeping players distanced. of which’s in addition to the potential problems on the floor.

One of which Rivers has mentioned frequently is usually the risk for overuse injuries on teams of which have to play with skeleton squads, since the N.B.A.’s eight-man minimum was not designed that has a pandemic in mind. Another possible issue is usually the league’s contention of which the virus is usually unlikely to be transmitted during live action unless players spend at least 15 minutes within six feet of each various other. the idea is usually fair to wonder whether those guidelines for close contact properly account for the amount of shouting, heavy breathing as well as chest-to-chest grappling of which takes place on a basketball court.

So much to think about, then, as the N.B.A. tries to cope with even meaner curveballs than its outdoor counterparts faced, through Major League Baseball’s coronavirus outbreak with the Miami Marlins in July to the N.F.L.’s need to postpone or move several games because of the virus en route to the playoffs. N.B.A. rosters, compared with baseball’s or football’s, are much more likely to take an irreparable hit when multiple players are lost.

“the idea’s a lot,” Washington’s Bradley Beal said Monday night. “although This particular is usually what we agreed to do.”


(Questions may be lightly edited or condensed for clarity.)

Q: The N.B.A. made a deal with the Capitanes de Ciudad de México to become the 29th G League franchise as well as play This particular season. What is usually their status? — @JDogindy through Twitter

Stein: Capitanes won’t be one of the 18 teams from the forthcoming G League bubble at Walt Disney World, although I’m told of which the team is usually supposed to begin playing from the 2021-22 season. The assumption, if we dare, is usually of which neither the N.B.A. nor the G League will be gripped by a pandemic by then, producing the idea easier to finally embark on This particular long-anticipated grand experiment with the league’s first franchise outside the United States as well as Canada.

The G League bubble will feature 17 of its 28 current franchises as well as the Ignite select team, which gives elite draft prospects like Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga as well as Daishen Nix a different path to the professional ranks than playing in college or overseas. There is usually a fee of about $500,000 for the N.B.A. teams of which are sending their G League affiliates to the bubble. Some parent clubs balked, because of the cost or because they intended to use their players on two-way contracts at the N.B.A. level for the entire season to mitigate potential roster shortages caused by injuries or virus protocols.

On the players’ side, there is usually added incentive for those aspiring to reach the N.B.A. Participation in what some are calling the “glubble,” or the “gubble,” not only showcases them in a well-scouted league although puts players into the N.B.A.’s coronavirus testing program. of which will shorten the quarantine-related delays all completely new players face when they are signed by an N.B.A. team. Monday’s G League draft attracted nearly 0 players for less than 30 available roster spots.

Q: We need a better name than “baseball-style series” when a team plays two road games in a row against the same host. They don’t play two-game series in baseball. — @MackMachine80 through Twitter

Stein: Agreed. I’ve had similar thoughts every time I type the phrase.

Sadly of which is usually also an admission of which I haven’t come up with anything better. The description stems through baseball’s distinction as the only major team sport known for parking its teams from the same city for three or four days, although I’m with you — as well as open to suggestions. Send them in.

Unclear, though, is usually whether these are schedule anomalies we will be discussing beyond This particular season. the idea’s something the league is usually studying after the absence of travel was frequently cited among the pluses of the Disney World bubble. The reduction in travel these two-game sets provide is usually sensible This particular season, when teams are trying to protect their traveling parties through the virus, although I am not a fan because they are yet another factor in teams’ dwindling home-court advantage these days.

Mostly empty arenas, the added comfort road teams are finding on those two-game excursions as well as sudden player absences have contributed to home teams’ underwhelming records through Monday’s play: 41-39 (.513) from the Eastern Conference; 34-39 (.465) from the West. These are obviously smaller sample sizes, although the early pace is usually worrisome. from the N.B.A.’s most recent season with teams playing exclusively in their arenas in 2018-19, Eastern teams went 341-274 at home (.554) as well as Western teams went 388-227 (.631).

Q: Are you a big Marvel guy? — Adam Howes

Stein: Not truly. I posted a tweet Sunday praising the San Antonio Spurs for their use of the well-liked Spider-Man vs. Spider-Man pointing meme through my favorite animated series, although I truly didn’t consume much animated programming in my youth (or thereafter).

I was infected with extreme sports nerdity so early of which, even by age 9, I was already obsessed with playing Strat-O-Matic baseball — to the point of which I turned a big white toy chest from the garage into a faux manager’s desk so I could pretend to be Billy Martin or Bob Lemon.

Yet I do still love the original “Spider-Man” animated series (especially Season 1) of which debuted in 1967. The episode of which produced the meme of Spider-Man as well as his impostor pointing at each various other, “Double Identity,” is usually a top-three episode in my personal rankings. So I applaud any time someone on N.B.A. Twitter finds a well-crafted reason to bust the idea out.

The No. 1 episode in those rankings, for the record, is usually “To Catch A Spider.” of which’s the one in which Spider-Man has to defeat several of his arch enemies, including my beloved Electro, after Dr. Noah Boddy breaks Electro, Vulture as well as the Green Goblin out of jail.


Washington’s Bradley Beal guarded Boston’s Jayson Tatum for 8 minutes 22 seconds on Friday night, as well as Tatum guarded Beal for 3 minutes 45 seconds, according to advanced tracking data through the league. The friends through St. Louis spent a combined 12 minutes 7 seconds in proximity to each various other without masks during the game as well as had an extended postgame discussion, leading the N.B.A. to place Beal in its health as well as safety protocols after Tatum later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Guarding another player during a game is usually typically not considered close contact by the league for the purposes of contact tracing. The N.B.A. has taken its cues through the Centers for Disease Control as well as Prevention to define close contact as spending at least 15 minutes within six feet of another person while not wearing a mask. The league said its research showed of which the idea was rare For two main players to spend of which much time within six feet of each various other during game action.

Only 29 players have scored at least 60 points in an N.B.A. game. The most recent two — Golden State’s Stephen Curry as well as Washington’s Beal — did the idea three days apart last week.

Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers shot a mere 44.4 percent through the field (48-for-108) from the six games he played wearing a clear shield over his face. Leonard is usually a career 49.0 percent shooter as well as had 35 points Sunday (including a career-high-tying seven 3-pointers) in his first game after shedding the mask. The protective gear was required after Leonard took an inadvertent elbow through his teammate Serge Ibaka on Christmas Day of which required eight stitches in his mouth.

The Toronto Raptors had averaged 3,663 fans for their first three home games in Tampa, Fla., before the idea was announced Saturday of which fans will no longer be admitted through at least Feb. 5 because of a sharp rise in coronavirus cases from the area. of which leaves several N.B.A. teams currently allowing reduced crowds for home games: Cleveland, Houston, completely new Orleans, Orlando as well as Utah. There was a maximum capacity of 3,800 at Tampa’s Amalie Arena, which the Raptors are using as their temporary home This particular season because of travel restrictions between the United States as well as Canada.


Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any various other feedback to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com.

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