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The Sixers Enter the Bubble Despite Concerns

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Cancel. The damn. Season!

NBA Restart 2020 - All-Access Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

NBA players have begun the process of moving into the bubble in Orlando, Florida to restart the 2019-20 NBA season that was shut down back in March. The Philadelphia 76ers flew down to Orlando on Thursday as they and the league continue “Phase 2” of the restart. Phase 2 entails moving teams to their respective hotels within the bubble, along with continuing the mandatory COVID-19 testing that has been going on since June 23.

We are 20 days away from the restart, and many people are excited. If you follow me on Twitter, then you know what my position has been since the NBA decided to restart the season. My belief is the same for all major sports, as the country is in no way prepared or (as we’ve seen in many places) capable of handling this gripping global pandemic.

Many sports media personalities are looking forward to the return of the NBA. Despite my personal position, I am too. The NBA is my preferred sport of choice – more than the NFL, MLB, or NHL. I just don’t believe there is a safe way to conduct business in any sort of way during these times.

Let’s talk about the “bubble” to start.

The NBA chose to restart the season in Orlando, Florida at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. In theory, this was a good idea. There are plenty of facilities to host games and contain all players, coaches, and staff. Here’s the problem with this: Florida is now the hot spot for new, confirmed coronavirus cases.

As of July 10, Florida had over 230,000 confirmed cases since this pandemic began. The state has recorded thousands of new cases per day over the last month, and the state confirmed over 8,900 cases on Thursday. Earlier this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared “victory” over the coronavirus. That proclamation came despite the fact that thousands of constituents in his state continue to contract the disease, and at the time of this post, the death rate in Florida is 17 percent for the most extreme cases (for context, the national average is 4 percent).

DeSantis’s failures, on top of the larger federal failures in Washington, DC, make it really hard to believe that the NBA can reasonably protect players from being infected. You also have the possibility of some players throwing caution to the wind and wyldin’ out in (or more dangerously OUT of) the bubble. I don’t want to believe that someone would break the guidelines of the bubble, but it is a possibility.

Someone might sneak out.

Someone might sneak in.

That’s not something you may WANT to think about, but you HAVE to think about the chance that it will happen. Out of the 302 NBA players, 16 have tested positive since Rudy Gobert first tested positive in March. Even players are showing concern over the risk. Sixers center Joel Embiid voiced his concerns about being in the bubble and showed up to the airport for the flight to Orlando wearing a full Tyvek suit, mask, and gloves:

There are also many players who will not be attending the restart in Orlando. Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie will not join after testing positive for coronavirus earlier this week. Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley, and Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo are also not flying down for the restart.

It’s a small sample size of players not flying down for either personal or health reasons, but there are still more are opting out. It’s just a further reminder that this country is not even close to ready to being able to play any kind of team sports involving contact.

Let me put this in perspective. The Dallas Superintendent of Schools says there may not be high school football in Texas. Think about that. There may not be high school football played … IN TEXAS. Come on. This is serious now. No one has given me a good, tangible reason why this season should restart. When the season was cancelled, I was one of the first at Liberty Ballers who believed the NBA should scrap this season. There was a NBA bylaw (6.23) that was floated around Twitter – which has now proven to be an April Fool’s joke – that stated that if a season is cancelled prior to April 1, the team with the best record shall be awarded the title.

Even if it was an April Fool’s joke … why is that such a bad idea? So what if the Milwaukee Bucks win the title? That’s fine. Let them have it and protect these players, coaches, staff, and their families. There’s no reason to restart this season other than the owners wanting to continue to make money. (Granted, this pressure isn’t coming SQUARELY from the owners. There are a lot of players that can’t afford to lose a year’s worth of salary.) However, the owners never have a problem locking out players (in any league) when they feel their players make too much money, but when it comes to a horrific pandemic gripping the planet, that’s when they say: “Eff that. We gotta get this paper.”

Even if the conditions were perfect – i.e. a valid treatment for the disease – we’re still talking about restarting this season after players have been off for three months. Many of these players had already been in peak prime shape, so you’re asking these guys to get back into that condition within weeks instead of months.

In a New York Times column by Marc Stein, Dr. Daniel Medina, the Chief of Athlete Care and Performance for the Washington Wizards, commented that there is a “high risk of injury that we’re going to face”. Medina and Stein reference a story that explained how the German Bundesliga soccer league was hit by 12 soft-tissue injuries in May during its first weekend back after a two-month hiatus.

That means strains. That means sprains. That means players having an increased risk of injury for a situation that, in my opinion, doesn’t need to happen.

So, what about the quality of games?

In a normal year, players have full training camps, workouts, and preseason games to get in condition. They’re working out almost every day for several hours a day doing drills and working on their conditioning to get ready for a full 82-game season. For the restart, the NBA is only having a few scrimmages, despite the fact that players have been off for months with very little practice inside proper training facilities. Both the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings, for example, had to shut down their facilities in the last few weeks due to team officials testing positive for coronavirus.

Pacers guard Victor Oladipo was already recovering from a ruptured quad tendon he suffered last year. He’s that team’s best player, and they would have possibly been a frisky out in a playoff series with him participating. What happens if Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons goes down because they have to get back to full speed in a short amount of time? Without winning a championship this year, would it have been worth the risk? Absolutely not. A lack of proper training and conditioning can lead to those sprains and strains, as well as even worse injuries like ACL or Achilles tears.

Games are going to be sloppy. Games are going to be sluggish. They’re going to be downright ugly. It’s hard for me to believe that this will get better quickly. Let’s not forget that players like Gobert, who have been infected and “recovered”, still have lingering effects. Gobert told a French media outlet that his sense of smell has not fully returned. Granted, you don’t need to smell to play basketball, but scientists have said that permanent lung damage is prevalent in some that recover. I would think that perfectly functioning lungs are kind of important for a basketball player – or any athlete, for that matter.

Whatever, though. This restart is happening. You can’t stop this ball from rolling. What happens for 2020-21?

Once the restart concludes sometime in September, the 2020-21 season will begin on December 1. Tim Bontemps of ESPN tweeted last month that the NBA has hinted that it will be a full 82-game season.

**Earmuffs, kids.**

That’s f***ing stupid! There are going to be a lot of back-to-backs and many of those four-games-in-five-nights kind of deals. Adam Silver, are you insane? I would really rethink that plan.

As for next season, what about free agency and the NBA Draft? How is that going to pan out? There’s just way too much to squeeze in with such a short period of time thanks to the decision to restart the current season.

The NBA is my league. I love it. I will never abandon it. I’m elated for its return, but it will be with much cautious optimism because of the times in which we currently live. If we had been living in a country who handled this pandemic better, I would feel differently.

South Korea and the United States both recorded their first positive coronavirus case on the same day. New cases in South Korea are on the downtrend and, because of their efforts to at least slow the disease, were able to start playing their baseball season on time. In England, the English Premier League was able to restart their season once the country got their coronavirus cases reduced. (Shout out to my 2019-20 EPL Champion Liverpool squad, by the way.) Our country’s leaders twiddled their thumbs for months and let the virus ravage the population.

Believe me. I get it. I miss sports as much as any American. They give society something to enjoy and think about when the reality of the current world we live in with the coronavirus absolutely blows. However, while there are several other countries who are better suited to handle the idea of playing professional sports, the United States is far from ready to resume.