Football fans owe a debt of gratitude to the NBA for completing its season and playoffs so seamlessly. Had players like Jayson Tatum and LeBron James not made it through version 2.0 of the season without getting benched by the pandemic, it’s questionable whether the NFL could have even attempted to play a full season or started as scheduled.
The NBA bubble was costly but saved the season
Of all the sports forced to shut down in early March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA and NHL may have been affected the most. While the NCAA Tournament had to be scrapped, the college basketball conferences could at least fall back on the fact that they had crowned regular-season champions. NASCAR, MLS, and the PGA all halted early enough in their respective seasons that the drama had yet to build.
The pandemic caught the NBA squarely in the middle. Most teams had 15 to 18 games remaining when the regular season was put on hold. The prospect of awarding nothing more than nearly meaningless division championships wasn’t palatable to the league office, and owners feared the loss of massive money tied to TV contracts for the lucrative postseason.
After several weeks of a complete standstill and then complex negotiations with the players, commissioner Adam Silver moved forward with a plan for a bubble. Teams still within reach of the playoffs were brought to Disney World in Florida for an abbreviated conclusion to the regular season and then a full set of playoffs.
The plan worked to near-perfection. The season played out to a conclusion, with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers closing out the Miami Heat on Oct. 11 for the NBA championship.
The league had a lot of money on the line
The most widely circulated estimate is that operating the bubble in Orlando, Florida, cost the NBA $180 million. Combined with the cost of food, staffing, amenities, and ongoing testing for the COVID-19 virus, taking control of a significant portion of Disney World was a costly endeavor. However, not a single player or coach tested positive, and the league squeezed in 172 games.
The Athletic reported that the NBA lost approximately $695 million from the 258 games that were not played in arenas across the country during the 20-week shutdown. However, the bubble prevented the league from absorbing another $1.5 billion in losses, Sports Business Journal reported.
Most of the $1.5 billion at risk was tied to local and national television contracts. But playing the season to a conclusion also preserved valuable league sponsorship contracts and kept online merchandise sales flowing, though not at the accustomed levels.
Adam Silver admits the NBA dropped the ball in one area
From late July to early October, the bubble at Disney World was its own little town. While support personnel could come and go – though they were also subject to frequent testing – the players, coaches, and team staff were locked down in Orlando with the exception of trips home to deal with family matters.
That meant that the NBA executives had to account for all sorts of contingencies and plan to provide services that would make the players feel at home. Once the issue of food was nailed down, planners worked on lots of other considerations and even arranged for a barbershop.
“We did plan for the barbershop, and I think we were surprised by the amount of grooming of our players who frequented the barbershop,” commissioner Adam Silver told GQ.
However, Silver had to admit that the league whiffed by not considering one essential fact: Most NBA players have substantial discretionary income at their disposal. It didn’t take long for them to start missing the creature comforts of home.
“One thing we hadn’t planned sufficiently for was the amount of package deliveries. At the height of the campus operation, with 22 teams, we were getting over a thousand packages a day. I mean, everything from books, on one end of the spectrum, to exercise bicycles and gym equipment that guys wanted in their room. We had to set up an entire warehouse facility on campus to handle just the enormous load of delivery trucks.”Adam Silver