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Keith Strudler: Bubble Basketball Is Glorious

Last night’s Clippers/Mavs game withstanding, these NBA playoffs have been, well, outstanding. Perhaps there’s some inherent bias because after not watching sports for a few months, pretty much anything looks great. It’s like the first thing you eat after Yom Kippur ends – it’s always tastes fabulous. But with as much objectivity as can be assumed, we’re watching some really entertaining sports programming right now. And it’s just the first round.

There’s probably several reasons for that. First, we’ve eliminated some of the more exhausting parts of professional basketball, especially during a playoff run that comes after a draining 82 game regular season. Players don’t have to travel at all since they’re all playing on neutral courts in Disney. They can even commute to the gym in a golf cart. They don’t have to worry about getting extra tickets for friends who want to see the playoffs. Until recently, they couldn’t even do much to help their kids and families, given the strict restrictions on who could enter the bubble. If you were a player on one of the 22 teams that entered the NBA Disney bubble, it was pretty much all basketball, all the time.

Except, of course, when it isn’t. In between practices sessions and the weight room and ice baths and the normal trappings of the life of a professional athlete, there’s been video game tournaments, swim races in the pool, golfing, fishing and boating, haircuts,, and pretty much any other way a bunch of 20 and 30-year old’s can kill time at a massive Disney resort when you can’t go to the theme parks. It’s like summer camp for really fit and tall multi-millionaires. And we’ve gotten to see pretty much all of it. On social, including the remarkably entertaining twitter handle NBA Bubble Life. Individual athletes are producing their own videos on their own YouTube channels and getting viewership that would make most sports reporters green with envy. We’re getting extensive insight into the lives of one of the most exclusive clubs on the planet. And it seems we’re loving every minute of it.

We’re also getting more access during the game broadcasts. Without vanity shots of the audience, the cameras stay focused on the athletes and the floor. And without a lot of camera operators, they’re using robotic tools that give us way more angles, more lenses, basically just more of everything we want to see. And even as they pipe in some crowd noise, which I actually like, it’s still dim enough that we hear way more of what athletes are saying to each other, what coaches as saying to refs, and what refs are saying to broadcasters. Without the spectacle that is an NBA arena, we’re basically getting playoff basketball produced just for TV. And it’s glorious.

That said, this pandemic won’t last forever. At least I don’t think it will. Which means that at some point, athletes will leave Disney and return to their regularly scheduled lives, where they can eat where they want and see human beings that do not work for the NBA and potentially resume whatever real life looks like after we have some kind of vaccine. It also means that at some point, players will travel to other cities to play in front of live fans – no offense to the video fans in Disney – and fall back into the normal routine of elite professional basketball players.

But, as much as I want to return to normal – and I mean that more than I mean anything I’ve ever said ever – I don’t want everything to go back. For example, I really hope players keep making their own videos and talking to the fans. And I apologize to all my sports reporter friends out there who probably cringe at the thought. I hope we still get insight into these athletes as people, which, not surprisingly, might be the best part about watching sports in the first place. Maybe it’s a crossover between reality TV and pro sports. I hope the NBA recognizes how good basketball can be when they allow players to more fully recover and play at a higher level – which is why more and more NBA coaches are putting athletes on a regular season rotation. And I really hope we can continue to hear exactly what Rick Carlisle thinks of the calls Luka Doncic is or isn’t getting. I hope that even when life is back to more than worrying about how to not get sick and how many hours kids can attend school, we can still get NBA basketball just as good as what we’re getting right now.

Because fans or no fans, these NBA playoffs have simply been outstanding.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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