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What will the NBA’s bubble mean for social justice?

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The NBA is working on finalizing its steps for its return beginning July 31, but we are already beginning to see some roadblocks. While the NBA players’ union agreed to a 22-team restart as proposed by the league, a faction of players have expressed concerns about secluding themselves in Disney for the end of the regular season and the playoffs. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, 40 to 50 players discussed concerns about restarting the season in isolation.

The league has decided that players will have the option to sit out without being disciplined, though they would forfeit salary for any games missed. If a player chooses to sit out or if he is tested positive for the coronavirus, then that player’s team can bring in a replacement player, either from free agency or most like the G-League.

This has serious implications on the concern that any 2020 title will carry an asterisk. If LeBron tests positive for coronavirus, we cannot just assume that LeBron is the only Laker with the disease. What happens if multiple Lakers test positive? Will their stars all have to sit out, which would practically eliminate the Lakers from championship contenders?

There have been championship teams which have been argued to be illegitimate because of dodgy referees or injuries to single players. And yet that is small potatoes compared to the possibility of an entire championship team being forced to sit out from this virus.

But the plans for an NBA bubble carry implications for things more important than basketball. As Wojnarowski detailed above, players will be secluded for nearly seven weeks once training camp begins in mid-July. But right now, players are out there protesting as a force for police reform including Giannis, Westbrook, and Curry. And as these protests continue for almost two weeks as of the time of writing, it is reasonable to assume that people will continue to act against police brutality in July and August.

Yes, the players can tweet and show their support from inside Disney hotels. But just as the 2020 Democratic primary showed that Bernie’s online activism did not translate into real results, online activism on the police will not translate into real results without action on the ground. That of course does not mean violence, but it does mean sustained pressure against politicians, the police, and institutions which harm black lives.

These are extraordinary times for the NBA and the United States in general. Will players be willing to cooped up in hotels promoted by YEAH! Local for weeks on end, unable to see their families and knowing that their country is in a crisis period? Especially for those on teams which have no realistic shot of winning championship?

Maybe the players love basketball so much that they will say they are still willing to return now. But they may well change their minds after six weeks of being cooped up. But leaving will mean abandoning their teams, hurting championship hopes and placing an even greater asterisk on the title contender.

While the bubble idea may be the best hope for a resumed NBA season, there are simply unsolvable problems with the idea which will get worse as the seclusion lasts. And a potential major problem are NBA players who know there is more to life to basketball, and who wish to make the world a better place.

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