Freeman Cebu Sports

Bubble Basketball anyone?

BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro - The Freeman

With the NBA re-starting its season soon and the PBA teams resuming practice, the basketball world is getting excited for the return of hardcourt action. But what exactly will we all look out for? The games? The scores? Or the way they’ll deal with COVID 19? The COVID score? One thing sure is that this new normal for basketball is going to be a test case for the sport, with COVID still very much alive.

With everyone’s safety and health as the top concern, NBA Restart 2019-2020 is taking place in a “bubble.” The bubble is the Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida, where all activities will be conducted. By all, that means ALL: practice, games, testing, sleeping, eating and resting. All team personnel, players and staff will be restricted to the venue and won’t be allowed to leave the bubble until the season ends or when one’s team is eliminated (I think), or if one has to leave for a very serious emergency. It’s practically a big “quarantine” center for everything needed to resume the NBA season. One coach described the atmosphere as being like an extended road trip where everyone stays together in hotels for a longer period of time.

Twenty-two (22) teams are making the trip to Orlando. The 22 teams are broken down to the 16 teams in current playoff positions (eight per conference) and the six teams that are currently six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their respective conferences. The favorites are the Lakers and Clippers in the West, and the Bucks and Raptors in the East.

Regular season games start on July 30 and will run until August 14. The playoffs start soon after this, with October 13 as the target end of the tournament. Game days are loaded with as many as six games a day and will be played without an audience. Games will be played on three different venues within the complex. All games will be available on TV but locally, nobody won the rights to this. We’ll all have to watch the game via NBA League Pass. In the U.S., ESPN will be the exclusive network of the Eastern Conference Finals while TNT will be the exclusive network of the Western Conference Finals. ABC will be the exclusive network of the NBA Finals.

While it’s radically different from what we’ve gotten used to seeing, it’s the most ideal scenario, given the circumstances. Both team owners and players have approved of the set-up.  But yes, there will be concerns on health and safety. Some 26 NBA players tested positive for COVID 19 in the past month and won’t be allowed to enter the bubble until they’re clear. A few players have opted not to join their teams out of fear for their safety. But the NBA’s biggest names are definitely on board.

One of the most crucial elements that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for is safety and health. According to the NBA’s website, “The NBA and the NBPA established health and safety protocols that will govern the resumption of the season. The rigorous program, which addresses risks related to COVID-19 and focuses on the well-being of players, coaches, officials and staff, was developed in consultation with infectious disease specialists, government officials and public health experts, and in partnership with The Walt Disney Company.” I’m sure this includes testing throughout the games, massive disinfection in all places and the basics: wearing of face masks and maintaining physical distancing.

As a basketball fan, I pray that this turns out well. The Spanish basketball leagues just ended its season in a similar bubble environment in Valencia with Kirolbet Baskonia winning the championship.

With two models of basketball in the new normal set, what will our PBA do? For now, focus has been on resuming non-contact practice through strength and conditioning sessions with strict guidelines such as a maximum of four players per session. When this graduates to ball drills and scrimmages, things will get really interesting. I’m sure testing will also be done. It was also mentioned that players will be required to keep their travelling limited to only between the home and the practice venue, and nothing else. The PBA has mentioned a re-start in September or October but under what set-up? Will they establish a “bubble” approach? Where? Or will they stick to a strict home to venue travel arrangement for all (and pray that nobody gets infected). And then there is the UAAP and NCAA announcing that they will have games in 2021.

Bubble? Testing? Disney World? Good luck!

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