The Orlando bubble presented the NBA and its players with a plethora of challenges ranging from logistical and financial nightmares to mental health considerations. Commissioner Adam Silver spoke with GQ magazine during the NBA Finals for a Q&A that was published Monday, outlining the roadblocks that stood between the league and finishing off its season.
Silver called the NBA to a screeching halt March 11 when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first player to test positive for the coronavirus. The league wouldn’t resume play for four months, ultimately opting to finish the regular season with a reduced number of teams in a bubble environment before hosting the playoffs — all without a single fan in attendance.
“When we first began proposing playing in a bubble-type environment, I had many individual calls with players who were nervous, understandably, as to how safe that would even be,” Silver said, as quoted by GQ’s Bomani Jones. “At that point, people were still sheltered at home. Part of it was the sense that the players were going to be dependent on the behavior of everyone else in the bubble community: players, staff, employees — anyone who was part of it. And they realized we were only going to be as safe as the least compliant participant.”
The Orlando bubble was a first-of-its-kind situation for a professional sports league attempting to carry out its season. According to Silver, the day-to-day operations alone were a new ballgame for the NBA. The Disney Resort was receiving over 1,000 packages per day intended for players, forcing the league to utilize an entire warehouse facility just to sort them.
Players’ mental health was also a significant area the league addressed by offering sessions with psychologists. Given the uncertainty the country was facing and unusual living environment the players were put in, the NBA included questions about mental health as part of their daily routine. Silver said the “overall use rate of the psychologists, on and off campus, has been fairly high.”
“As tough as it is for people to be away from other family members, I think adult relationships are very different,” Silver said. “The real hardship has been the separation from kids, who may not understand [what's going on]. When we had a reduced number of teams and the families could bring their children onto the campus, I think that made a big difference.”
The NBA was also faced with the decision of how to approach the fight against racism after the death of George Floyd sparked protests around the country as well as calls for action from players themselves. Silver said the league recognized it was going to have to side with one side of a multi-faceted social justice issue, but opted to take a strong stance in support of Black Lives Matter after determining it was the best way to enact change.
“I mean, if mask wearing is viewed as political, certainly Black Lives Matter as a movement would be viewed as political,” Silver said. “Having said that, and putting aside the precise expression of it, whether it said ‘end racism’ on our floor or ‘Black Lives Matter,’ I kept reminding myself of the bedrock principles underlying this league. Those values that have been in place long before me, and long before most of the governors in this league. And that is a support of racial equality and social justice. Have we been perfect on these issues? Of course not. But it's been a bedrock principle, just like it is for this country, and the country's been far from perfect on it.”