Bubble Basketball: Love or Hate

Darryl Rice
NBA Analyst

"I'm just here so I won't get fined."

A Whole New Bubble

What is going on guys and gals? I hope everyone is still being safe in this new normal. If you’re like me, you possibly thought that all of this would be over by now, but it isn’t. We are still in a pandemic, and we are still watching sports through a weird lens. Surprisingly, with all the sports happening in one climate, I find myself overwhelmed by the activity. Recently we had 20 games on at once! Can you imagine trying to cap those games to add on to your investment? I’ll just tell you, it sucks. The sport that has really surprised me by leaps and bounds is the NBA. This new product we are seeing is not a bad product, or is it? Let’s look at a few observations.

Mental Toughness

One thing bubble basketball did immediately was expose the players who were mentally weak. Players were forced to leave the comfort of their home and moved to a confined space without family or close friends. They had no outlets or any other vices they could escape to. All they had were four walls and a cell phone. Did anyone find it weird that LeBron was tweeting DURING the playoffs? We all know he goes dark during this time, but not this year.

My background is outside sales and account management. I’ve lived in hotels for months at a time. Trust me, it gets old very quickly! I can only imagine being confined (no matter how big the space) and only being around the same people everyday. We all know the Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell incident and I’m sure many players can attest to that happening everyday. Could you imagine Luka seeing Montrez in the cafeteria after what he called him? You can’t get away even if you wanted to. These examples take a toll, and there was no better example of that than Paul George. Of all his years playing ball, he is experiencing mental illness while being in a bubble. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can take a toll on anyone, which is why the Clippers can lose to Denver, amongst other reasons. Listen to Danny Green describe the bubble as ‘Groundhog’s Day’.

NBA Bubble Fatigue

If the mind is tired, so is the body. These two go hand-in-hand. Let’s make one thing clear now: when you get to the professional level on any platform, you are likely programmed. Everything is a schedule. This is by design and it’s a major characteristic recruiters look for. Now, the players are living a completely different lifestyle, and it just adds on to the pressure they face to perform. The damn equipment managers even have to adjust! Let’s take a quick look at what the equipment managers have to go through to make sure the laundry is perfect.

Or how about the extremes these guys go through to make them feel at home. Udonis Haslem has ordered $5,000.00 worth of amazon orders. Some players ordered full size fridges to their rooms.

What I’m really wanting to drive home here is this new lifestyle is taking a toll on the players mentally and physically. It’s not all glitz and glam, and we are expecting these guys to perform at a high clip! Why? Because they are paid millions, they are professionals. These are true, but what these players aren’t are robots.

Low-Scoring Games

The third and final pillar of bubble basketball is the actual gameplay. We can all agree the body adapts to whatever environment it’s in. I really don’t want to hear anything about physical travel. Yes, the players aren’t necessarily traveling, but I don’t want you to get confused about travel being a major factor.

Yes, it is a factor, but not as major as us non-players make it out to be. I know this may sound weird, but some players really don’t mind the travel. A change of scenery is good, and we’ve already established this bubble is having a toll on the players. I would go as far to say, this new set-up is having an effect on the game as a whole.

Players need something to drive them. They get this from the fans. You can’t duplicate real emotion, and that is needed. These games are taking longer because it is quiet and everyone is on edge. Refs are quick to blow the whistle. Virtual fans are getting kicked out, it’s just a complete mess and would be for the players who need that extra push.

Here’s my take. The bubble has exposed players’ weaknesses because they are more in the spotlight. Players are taking less risks. That’s why the 3-point percentage is the lowest it’s ever been and free throws have been higher. The game is being played from a defensive mind-set, that is, whenever a player has the ball he will make the least risky move, such as not shooting the 3. This also translates to mental mistakes. Billy Donovan thought that because of the lack of noise, there shouldn’t be any issues on communicating on defense, and now he’s not even in OKC.

Is the product good? It depends. Many people complained about high-scoring games, and the game not being gritty like the 80’s. In their eyes the game looks great. If you’re wanting an exhibition of 3s, you’re not going to get it from the remaining teams besides Miami, and possibly Houston if they can survive. I predict the games will get even better once we enter the conference finals! Be safe y’all.

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