After the Los Angeles Lakers captured their 17th NBA championship, it was no surprise they celebrated the accomplishment, but that wasn’t the only thing they were pouring champagne on each other for. They were happy to be finally going home.
To provide us with some sense of normalcy and bring back sports, the NBA’s superstars sacrificed not only their bodies but their minds as well. Despite some minor hiccups (looking at you Lemon Pepper Lou), the bubble, which was the brainchild of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA President Chris Paul, was a success due to the players completely buying into the idea of being isolated from their families for nearly 100 days.
Not one NBA game was sacrificed due to COVID-19, but to accomplish that astonishing feat, the players, coaches, and staff had to isolate themselves from the world. In a new Los Angeles Times report, the newly crowned champions came off their sugar high of capturing their 17th Larry O’Brien trophy and revealed that the 100 days in the bubble were very taxing.
Before the start of the NBA Finals’ LeBron James said, “It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” when describing his time in the bubble. “But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else because it’s been extremely tough.”
It wasn’t always mentally draining on the players and NBA reps. When they first arrived in Orlando, things were very loose as players were just happy to get back on the court and do what they love. But as days went along, and then the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin happened, the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play in protest, players decided they needed to escape and gathered to enjoy drinks and cigars and decompress.
After intense meetings and conversations, the players did decide to resume play. Danny Green described the experience in the bubble as being like “Groundhog Day.”
“Mentally, it’s kind of like ‘Groundhog Day’ in here. I don’t want to make it seem that bad, but the bubble is as good as your play, you know? You don’t have many escapes or outside distractions. If you’re not playing well, the walls are gonna close in on you more and more.”
No player knows more about that experience Green described than Paul George, who struggled mightily in the playoffs and was ridiculed on social media because of his “Playoff P” nickname. George later revealed he was struggling with depression after he finally found his mojo in the bubble.
Los Angeles Lakers big man Dwight Howard revealed he had a hard time adjusting to the bubble life.
“For myself, there [have] been times where I was depressed about just having to be in the bubble, not being able to see my family, my kids,” Howard revealed during the NBA Finals. “So, it could be very difficult. So I just tried to find a way to escape mentally by doing a lot of reading, getting out and walking, talking to a lot of the people who work from the NBA who are here and experiencing the bubble as well. So just trying to share my experiences with them and to listen to their experiences and find hope within each other.”
The players also know that leaving the bubble also means they will be returning to the chaotic world they were literally shielded from. Miami Heat guard sharpshooter Duncan Robinson spoke on entry into the highly volatile country.
“Obviously, we know when we leave here we’ll be thrown back into the fire, the chaos of it all. We’ll see how it goes. You know, it’ll come with its challenges. Habits are developed over the 90-plus days we’ve been here. You have your daily routines that are going to have to change. That’s just how it goes. The same adjustments that you made coming here, you make them leaving. It really is what it is.”
With COVID-19 still ravaging the country and no sign of the country returning to “normal,” the NBA is already thinking about what next season will look like. There are talks of doing another bubble situation, but right it’s looking like a “last resort” and not a popular idea. One NBA veteran said, “No way,” when asked if he would do it all over again.
We definitely should appreciate the NBA’s bubble season even more now.
Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty