The NBA Bubble: Would I have gone, what Kobe would have thought, and why there won’t be an asterisk on this year’s championship

Photo: Associated Press

How crazy is this shit?

Say the word “Bubble” around anyone who’s a ball fan, and you’re guaranteed some piping hot takes on how the league is planning to finish out the season. For the last few weeks, I’ve heard opinions on everything from the safety of the set-up to the fish NBA players are catching in Disney’s pond—and, oh yeah, I’ve heard some talk about the basketball, too. 

We’ve been fiending for it since March now, watching old games to fill the void—sometimes even writing about them, too. The Bubble has become an everyday conversation topic, because how could it not? It’s a $150 million trip to Disneyworld. That’s a pretty high-stakes family vacation.

I’m as interested as everyone else in the finer points of the whole thing, and of course, I can’t wait for the games themselves. But what I’ve been thinking about the most is the choice every single NBA player has had to make going into this strange season. The other day, after reading about some of the guys who have opted out of the season—and others who have come down with the virus—I asked my wife Adrienne what she would have wanted if I was playing this season. Would she have had me quarantine in Disney World—and come and joined me for the playoffs, leaving our kids behind? Or would that be too risky? It’s not an easy choice. 

This isn’t to say pro athletes have it particularly hard. Everyone’s lives have been uprooted in different ways for the past four months, and I’d love to talk to the first guy who complains about eating room service every night. But I have friends who won’t see their kids until November. That’s a real sacrifice to make.

So if my career hadn’t ended because of my health, and I were still in the league at 36 years-old, I’m not sure if I’d have gone to the Bubble. I don’t even know how I’d be able to focus on winning games if I did go. Some people are saying this year’s championship is going to have an asterisk next to it. Hell no. It’s legitimate—if anything, winning a championship during a pandemic will go down as one of the biggest achievements in the history of the game. And the ways teams have been coming together to support Black Lives Matter, on and off the court, not only in the NBA but in the WNBA, too? With this many people watching, you can’t deny how big an influence that will have.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about Kobe lately: what he’d make of all this, how he’d inspire the rest of us. I can’t help but imagine that despite everything, he’d have loved this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to devote himself fully to basketball—shooting, like he always did, as early as 4 a.m. and as late as midnight—though I can’t imagine he could have refrained from heading over to the amusement park for some rides. Kobe straight up loved Disney. 

I know Kobe will be watching from above, dissecting every pump and every pull up anyone makes in Orlando this summer and fall. That gets me excited about the Bubble.

By the end of July, we’re used to speculating about the draft, trades, and free agents, not a two-month regular season. And we’re definitely new to wondering how long players will have to quarantine for—or what’ll happen if they break the rules once games start.

But we’ll get used to it, because it’s basketball, and that’s what we’ve been missing this whole time: rubber on wood, leather through net, the sound of coaches hollering down the sidelines. In an empty arena, those sounds will be even louder. And whether it’s Kobe upstairs or my family and me on our living room couch, we’ll all be listening.