Even after Jayson Tatum very eloquently detailed his apprehensions about entering the bubble, there are some who continue to roll their eyes whenever a player expresses even the tiniest bit of concern about their sport’s resumption of play.
Listening to Boston Celtics players explain their various issues over the past week, I found it refreshing. I found it human. These players are leaving their families and risking their safety to bring us a tiny slice of normalcy with the return of pro sports.
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Yes, most are handsomely compensated — but they are also being thrust into an unprecedented situation with restraints they never signed up for, all largely for our entertainment.
What’s more, most recognize this. Tatum admitted it would be callous of him to sit out the restart solely in fear of compromising future earnings at a time when unemployment numbers are so outrageously high.
But if players want to vocalize their concerns — big and small — I’m all ears. There is no playbook for what players are about to endure inside this bubble and how they handle it all is a big part of the story.
When Tatum bemoans being apart from his 2 ½-year old son for as much as three months, I get it. FaceTime and Zoom make the world smaller but they are not substitutes for daily interaction between child and parent. When Gordon Hayward is adamant he will depart the bubble, and deal with the obstacles of reentering, to be there for the birth of his first son, I get it.
Life events, particularly those that could not have reasonably been expected to interfere with one’s work schedule, should not be ignored because it might temporarily hinder a team’s quest for a trophy.
At a time when all of our lives have already been altered, players are being asked to sacrifice even more of their typical freedoms.
It’s fair for them to be skeptical. It’s fair for them to voice concerns, even if others don’t believe they are as much of a hindrance as that player might be suggesting. We’d go so far as to suggest it would be weird if players didn’t have concerns about how this is all going to work, or offer emotional reactions to the infancy of their bubble stay.
We’re guessing many of the anxieties and inconveniences will likely dissipate as players settle into the bubble. Eventually, the return of games and competition should offer a much-needed jolt of normalcy in an otherwise bizarre living situation.
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If a player expressing their concern somehow diminishes your excitement for what’s ahead, I’m not sure what to tell you. To expect robot-like enthusiasm from athletes is misguided. To fret that players might vocalize genuine human emotion instead of simply reciting boring sports clichés flies counter to what we constantly yearn from our athletes.
There is a delicate line to walk. And players bemoaning 5-star hotels and pre-packaged meals won’t sit well in all corners. But I don’t mind the glimpse it offers if a player wants to share his knee-jerk reaction.
The guess here is that when Celtics players put on their uniforms and see the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo on the other side of the floor, competition will take center stage and the NBA will deliver a product much like the one we’ve yearned for since everything paused in March.
Sure, it's fair to wonder how the early scrimmages and seeding games will look, as each team will have different motivations in the ramp-up to the postseason, but the playoffs should have much of the excitement that we’re used to from those games. Let the famed Dream Team scrimmage be a prime example of how the absence of a crowd doesn’t always affect the intensity on the court.
This is all wildly unique. If being away from his son affects Tatum’s play, I want to hear about it. If Jaylen Brown worries that the return of games stunts the momentum of the social justice movement, I want to hear him vocalize that.
The human element is a major storyline to this wild experience.