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NBPA's Michele Roberts Says NBA Might Need to Use a Bubble for 2020-21 Season

Blake SchusterAnalyst IIJuly 28, 2020

A basketball court is shown at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Kissimmee, Fla., Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The NBA's marketing motto for the restart of the season at Walt Disney World is “Whole New Game,” and in many respects, that’s very true. (AP Photo/Tim Reynolds)
Tim Reynolds/Associated Press

The NBA might need to get used to playing inside a bubble for the time being not just for the rest of this season—but possibly for the start of the next, too.

In an interview with ESPN's Tim BontempsNational Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said returning to a secure environment may be the league's best path forward for 2020-21.  

"If tomorrow looks like today, I don't know how we say we can do it differently," Roberts said. "If tomorrow looks like today, and today we all acknowledge—and this is not Michele talking, this is the league, together with the PA and our respective experts saying, 'This is the way to do it' —then that's going to have to be the way to do it."

The NBA's bubble site at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, has so far remained free of new positive COVID-19 results. 

On July 21, the NBA reported zero cases of the coronavirus following the testing of 346 players, and the league has gone three weeks without a positive result.

While teams have been practicing and holding scrimmages against each other, games are slated to begin on Thursday evening with a doubleheader featuring the Utah Jazz against the New Orleans Pelicans and then the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Los Angeles Clippers. 

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Each of the 22 teams inside the bubble will play eight regular-season games to finalize the playoff seeding, at which point the six eliminated teams will head home. 

In theory, the bubble will grow smaller and easier to contain as clubs are eliminated after each round. 

A bubble for the 2020-21 season, however, presents an even bigger ask. 

The NBA would need to find a way to accommodate all 30 teams for an 82-game season. More teams equals more risk—as does a longer season. Yet Roberts is preparing for the possibility the league will need to work around those risks:

"I'm not in the Trump camp in believing it's all going to go away in two weeks, but I'm praying, praying that there will be a different set of circumstances that will allow us to play in a different way. But because I don't know, all I know is what I know now. So it may be that, if the bubble is the way to play, then that is likely gonna be the way we play next season, if things remains as they are.

"I hope not. Because I'd like to think that people can live with their families. But I can only comment on what I know, and what I know is right now."

Some of the NBA and the union's top decision-makers have already begun addressing those concerns.

"The league and the union also have begun preparing for negotiations about how to take care of what will almost certainly be a steep drop in revenue next season because of the ongoing pandemic, which will make it difficult to both play a full schedule and, more importantly, play games in front of paying fans," Bontemps wrote. "In a call with the players back in May, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said money generated from live game attendance could account for up to 40 percent of the league's annual revenue.

"Roberts said the two sides are 'beginning some very high-level discussions with respect to what the potential issues are,' and said the laborious process that was necessary for the NBA and the union to hash out how to put the bubble together, and then actually go through the process of doing so, 'took just about all of the oxygen out of the room.'"

The NBA will have a bit more time than usual to prepare for next season. Training camps are scheduled to begin November 10, with the season tipping off in early December. 

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