The silent but deadly virus made it impossible.
The continued trend of Black bodies in the streets made it unlikely.
The prospect of spending nearly three months on a restrictive campus made it improbable.
But somehow, someway, 100 days came and went, and the NBA did what the rest of the country could not — issue a strict plan with no margin for error, stick to it without complaint and therefore make the happiest place on earth the safest mini-city in between the Pacific and Atlantic.
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The tears Anthony Davis quietly shed while purple-and-gold confetti fell as the Los Angeles Lakers clinched yet another title weren’t as likely as the tears of those who didn’t believe finishing this bubble was possible with no positive tests and no medical-induced stoppages of play.
The tears of the usually straightforward but stoic Erik Spoelstra were just as unlikely, but it underscored what it took to start this odyssey, let alone finish it. The only people who knew what it took were the people who actually went through it, since there was no blueprint, no precedent for anyone to pull from in anticipation of this. It was probably better that way because this was unimaginable.
Bringing 22 teams into the Walt Disney World campus seemed like the biggest signal of the NBA’s intentions, a transparent money grab compared to doing the prudent thing, starting the playoffs and finishing the season without the risk of infection.
Even with the nearly 120-page manual that seemed to cover every possible contingency, leaving nothing to chance, the NBA was taking a chance in appearing to suss out regular-season games to fulfill the obligations to its television partners and getting the players in some semblance of playoff shape.
But it seemed too ambitious, as was this entire enterprise. If there ever was proof of the need-based relationship between the NBA’s players and owners, the devilish details in owners who’ve historically and currently donated to Republican causes turning to its partners and endorsing slogans that go against that ideology showed there’s at least an acknowledgment of such a need.
Commissioner Adam Silver has noted in interviews the “Black Lives Matter” sign being tattooed on the floor won’t be present in NBA arenas whenever play reconvenes for next season, which underscores how difficult it probably was to get the owners to agree to such a radical matter to begin with.
As much as the players’ freedoms and usual customs were being restricted throughout this unprecedented period, the owners keeping quiet and swallowing their massive egos was a sacrifice in itself. The numerous campaigns and commercials and T-shirts implored citizens to vote, usually in favor of one side of the political aisle than the other, and it wasn’t the side the owners overwhelmingly put their money on.
And if one was to put their money on something, anything, distracting this from reaching its conclusion, the will of the players would’ve been as high as a coronavirus outbreak — so many agendas, so many voices, so many rules for guys who are used to their excellence affording them elasticity or exception from the point that they were teenagers.
It gets lost in the proverbial confetti, but there was more than a small contingent of players who didn’t think the trip to Orlando was worth taking, that the nation’s focus on this racial reckoning would be diverted if basketball restarted.
Even before bubble ball started, some players opted out, citing personal and health reasons that truthfully could not be disputed. But the ones who decided to play likely had no clue of the journey they were truly undertaking. The physical, mental and emotional strain it would pose until the clear bubble allowed them to view what was happening in the real world.
Believing you’re making a difference, believing the slogans and the emotive, vulnerable statements about what it is to be Black in America are reaching the right ears hit a roadblock when everyone’s eyes saw yet another shooting. It was yet another sobering reminder that the road is long and hard, but the despair setting in nearly derailed the NBA season.
The season teetered on a fault when the Milwaukee Bucks showed the fragility of this entire operation when they shut things down for a day. It showed how perfect everything had to be for this to finish, let alone start or continue.
There didn’t seem to be a consensus on moving forward; After all, it seems so long ago considering the events of the past eight weeks, but this could’ve turned on a trifle.
A big trifle, a playoff-sized one.
The players met up after unexpectedly, frustratingly, following the lead of the Bucks who didn’t have a long-term plan besides telling the world “We’re not playing today” and it took so much for things to get back on track.
If the NFL’s breakouts and subsequent stubbornness to act as if the deadly virus doesn’t exist can’t appeal to the massive undertaking the NBA applied to its operation to get things done, that day where the world stopped should’ve been the biggest signal.
The fatigue of those weeks, the emotions, the poking, the prodding, the testing, the fear — it would’ve been understandable even if Silver said “no mas” and we would’ve never reached what some would feel is a storybook ending as the historic Lakers reached the mountaintop again in some form of familiarity for fans in an unfamiliar setting.
Players were encouraged to bear their souls, every day, an autopsy of their worst fears when everything about sports tells them to ignore such vulnerabilities. The league was positioned to have a soul for the first time when the only rhythm and blues were supposed to be confined to the court.
The league had to endure self-inflicted shots on their likely hypocrisy toward the China situation, while not allowing itself to be used as a political prop even though the NBA was naked to the bad faith actors and those who wanted nothing more than to divert the national conversation the league was putting on.
It was a test of endurance, and focus, and at least in appearance, pseudo-conscience.
The players realized a measure of their power, and reach of their voices.
The league realized it could handle the longest year ever, and even though the television ratings may say otherwise, the NBA discovered it could put on a successful venture that should be the envy of most behaviors in this country.
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