It’s official: The league’s talent and employees have made it to the NBA Finals without the disruption of a major outbreak.
It’s hard not to be enamoured with the unprecedented nature of the season’s resumption within the pseudo, “Under the Dome” setup the NBA has arranged. To be clear, the seeding games and the first three rounds of the playoffs operating without much of a hitch, in terms of outbreak and illness, does not mean that this was your typical postseason. It’s been everything but “business as usual” for the players and numerous staffs inhabiting the hotels of the Disney campus.
Despite the excellent management and testing measures, the happenings of the last few months within the federally secured grounds of the NBA Bubble™ will be a textbook case study for both sports psychologists and sociologists alike in the near future. As for you and I, it does not take a four-year degree to understand that something strange — or special, depending on whether your claimed team was at the receiving end of Disney’s magic — has been occurring right before our eyes.
What’s fascinating is that most bubble play strung together can be categorized within a simple, three-marked spectrum: “aging players reentering their primes,” “the grey area of mediocrity,” and your “GMO’d young stars hitting NBA puberty early” marking the opposing end. To the audience, this script’s formula has done nothing but stir together simultaneous feelings of gut churning nostalgia, and teary-eyed excitement for the future.
The earliest instance of the bubble’s hoop christening was Luka Doncic’s six-game series versus the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that continuously seemed to find itself on the receiving end of young guard crowning ceremonies for some odd reason. Predictions arose, sensibly concluding the 21-year-old Slovenian would struggle mightily against the strength, length and agility of the Clippers’ two-way wings in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Naturally, the fresh-faced sophomore averaged 31 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists. Waltzing into triple doubles and unfazed by the star power and talent on the opposing team, Doncic gingerly orchestrated pick and rolls, punished the double teams that his proficient scoring warranted and whipped ambidextrous, crosscourt passes to open shooters for clear-as-day looks.
Reminiscent of Luka’s youth, coupled with his demonstrated old-soul comfort on the court, was the Heat’s Tyler Herro. The rookie is making his way to an NBA Finals and not as an end-of-bench development project, but as a vital sixth-man scorer who oftentimes acted as the offensive release valve against the quicksand defenses of the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.
Herro is a showman, made evident by his 37-point Game 4 explosion, the second-most points by a player 20 years or younger in NBA playoff history behind Magic Johnson. He’s also a three-level scorer and a trusted secondary ball handler when placed with defense-heavy units. Alongside the tremendously athletic and intelligent Bam Adebayo, the other element of the Heat’s simultaneously blooming youth core, Herro has been a welcomed addition to the impressive crop of 20-something emerging stars in the Eastern Conference.
On the opposite end of our impressively scientific spectrum are the “aging stars reentering their primes,” no matter how brief this reentrance may be.
Through the months-long hiatus, the prospect of no NBA basketball for the foreseeable future due to the global pandemic and its subsequent mishandling robbing us of one the most ancient joys rewarded to a functioning society was one that would’ve left a void for many despite how hard it might seem to admit it. Through this time, thoughts had been shared by countless many regarding how fans of the sport may not be able to witness the last season or two of prime players before seeing them walk off into the league’s proverbial sunset of limited minutes, hamstring issues and lost legs.
In that sense, bubble ball didn’t disappoint. There was something difficult and celebratory about seeing LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers effortlessly close out the Denver Nuggets in prime fashion to honour #Year17 and catapult King James to a 10th Finals berth, giving his fans the dominant and overwhelming performance they’d been craving up until that night.
Funnily enough, similar things can be said about the series Kyle Lowry had against the Boston Celtics. Standing six feet tall and 34 years of age, a moment in time when small guards typically succumb to their athletic limitations, Lowry established himself as the alpha of the series in spite of the loss— further shedding himself of the dated “playoff choker” moniker.
We went into the resumption of the season unsure of what it would bring and anxious about the potential of disastrous consequences. Even though all parties, both involved and distant, would like nothing more than for everything to return to normalcy when safe as soon as possible, the last several months have improved us as consumers and admirers. It has taught us to savor the evolution of youth into prime and prime into twilight more than ever before. And frankly, I’m elated at the thought of seeing how it translates moving forward for the league and for those within its orbit.
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