Finn Cawley ’22
With the longest and most chaotic season in NBA history concluding on a storybook Lakers’ victory earlier this week, it is clear that the 2019-2020 season will go down as the most memorable in league history.
From the level of elite play and parity on the court to the unfolding of unprecedented geopolitical events off the court, emotions and narratives ran high. The synthesis of the coronavirus, police brutality and racial inequality, and extreme political polarization with the impending presidential election led to perhaps the most uncertain year in the history of the Association, if not the 21st century United States. More narrowly, from a league perspective, the NBA lost notable representatives of the game, including former all-star Cliff Robinson, Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan, late, great league commissioner David Stern, and, perhaps most devastatingly, Lakers’ legend and icon Kobe Bryant. In these times of doubts and uncertainties, the NBA bubble provided what was needed most: a sense of stability.
From its inception in June through the conclusion of the playoffs this past Sunday, the NBA bubble provided normalcy, entertainment, and a much-needed escape through sports. Just as we reached our peak levels of boredom and stir-craziness going on three months of quarantine, commissioner Adam Silver and league officials made the decision to resume the season in a confined bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida’s Disney World. This newfound and somewhat controversial concept proved to be successful on multiple fronts, providing not only an exciting product even without fans, but perhaps more impressively concluding with zero cases of COVID-19 for the entirety of the bubble’s duration.
Given this success, critics point to a massive decrease in NBA ratings, with the Finals’ ratings down 70%, reaching their lowest in league history. After deeper analysis, however, these ratings hardly tell the entire story. With less people watching the games on cable television and an increasing population opting to illegally stream the games online through mediums like Reddit, it’s only natural that there would be a decline in ratings. Moreover, while the NBA playoffs would traditionally only have to compete with regular season baseball and playoff hockey in the summer months, the pushback to fall has led to competition with playoff baseball, playoff hockey, college football, and, most significantly, NFL football. Additionally, with the coverage of COVID-19 and the upcoming election, all major league sports ratings have suffered a hit while cable news ratings surge.
Even with the decline in ratings, the future of the league is arguably brighter than ever, what with a resurgence in competitiveness and parity, a higher level of talent than in previous years, budding young superstars, and the increased internationalization of the game. As mentioned before, the Lakers winning their record-tying 17th championship and dedicating it to the memory of franchise legend Kobe Bryant seemed like the only fitting end, a cherry on top of this bizarre, whirlwind of a season. As the NFL currently struggles to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and adjust scheduling, perhaps commissioner Roger Goodell would do well to take notes on the NBA bubble’s management and success.