Updated: Mar 24
The NBA is the best run sports league because of the way it handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Two words: The Bubble.
This $180 million plan changed how sport leagues viewed the fight against COVID-19. The National Basketball Association was the first North American sports league to start during the pandemic, restarting its 2019-2020 season in Orlando. The NBA’s initiative sparked incredible innovation to not only keep away the deadly virus but to satisfy players, coaches, teams and sponsors.
The NBA featured virtual fan boards, new camera angles, technology to assist contact tracing and saliva-based COVID-19 testing. When play resumed, the NBA and its teams earned media revenue from Regional Sports Networks and national networks by implementing assets to fulfill all agreements.
“The thing that made the bubble so effective was that it really became (the NBA’s) own little village of basketball,” NBA contributor Sherrod Blakely said by phone. “(The league) had a much greater handle on the coronavirus and things like that because (there was) a very limited window from which players could venture out.”
The NBA doesn’t require players to get vaccinated, but the league had incentives for players to get the shot during its 2021-2022 season. Fully vaccinated players don’t have to test regularly and quarantine if a close contact tests positive, unless they show symptoms. Unvaccinated players have to test on days when they practice and travel. They also must enter health and safety protocols if they are in close contact with someone who tested positive.
“The NBA took a progressive step to encourage their players to get vaccinated,” NBA writer for Front Office Sports Anthony Puccio said by phone. “(The league) did basically everything it could to avoid any issues.”
The league and its teams had to adapt to local city vaccination mandates. Vaccinated players in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Toronto can play at home games according to local city mandates. Star players like Nets’ Kyrie Irving and Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins faced the decision to either get vaccinated and play or sit out and not get compensated.
Rather than feel public pressure from players, the NBA and the NBA Players Association agreed that players will lose their game check if they miss games because of a local COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Although players and fans weren't thrilled, the protection and health of the NBA is more important.
The NBA also adapted to the Omicron variant. In December, the league postponed over 10 games because many players and coaches contracted COVID-19. To limit games from being pushed back, the NBA allowed additional replacement players for teams with players in health and safety protocols. It allowed a team to sign a replacement player for each positive COVID-19 case.
“It was good in the sense that they were able to pivot,” Puccio said. “(There is) so much talent in the basketball realm: overseas, retired players, G league. They were able to flex that (by giving) players a shot.”
After the Center for Disease Control and Prevention changed the isolation restrictions for Americans who test positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five, the NBA sliced its isolation periods for players who test positive from 10 days to six if players are asymptomatic.
“You're seeing really not just across the NBA landscape, but just across the world, that we are moving in the right direction,” Blakely said. “The NBA has been pretty good about just listening to what the science is telling them and then responding accordingly to that.”
While other leagues dominate the NBA in revenue and viewership, the NBA continues to pave the way for how to run a professional sports league. The league’s ability to adjust to difficult circumstances, like the 2020 NBA player strike and the Donald Sterling situation, make it one of a kind. There are only three words to describe the National Basketball Association: The Best Run.
Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 598 – Opinion Writing in the Digital Age at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at: email@example.com.