Anyone possessing a basketball pulse should know by now that the NBA will likely resume its 2019-2020 basketball season in a self-sustaining bubble community known as the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World, Florida, beginning with practices and scrimmages, and progressing to a reboot of competitive play sometime around July 30. By the time teams battle each other again for supremacy—assuming the magic ship doesn’t sail off the rails again due to rising cases of Covid-19 and contentious union negotiations—approximately four months and 20 days will have passed since things came to a screeching halt. With eight seeding games per team in a 16-day period followed by four rounds of a traditional best-of-seven playoff format, the new schedule will stretch out until about October 13. As welcome as this all is, it seems a bit ridiculous to refer to a novel concept as anything resembling the resumption of the regular season. Instead, let’s call it NBA 2020 Season 2, and assume that what we’re currently in qualifies as the preseason. There’s plenty to sort through during this waiting period, although the more important strokes will ultimately be left to historians to wrestle with. Basketball is only a small portion of it, part of the parcel, a footnote, a diversion, a necessity for some, an addiction, welcome solace, a thing to think about late at night when all is dark and sleep comes slowly and uneasily, when stresses and isolation and social inequities and survival all swirl together in a new normal that is anything but normal in any sense of the word. Remember when we took it all for granted? Remember when choices seemed simpler, even if there is nothing simple about the world we now inhabit?
The year was less than a month old when Kobe Bryant and eight other precious souls were lost in a fiery crash, a cataclysmic event that threw more than just the sports world into shocked disbelief and grieving. It was so sudden, so strange. It put us all into a shell-shocked stew of question marks and reminisces. We struggled to come up with words, but we all wanted to make words, and to relive and recount memories. Even as all that was unfolding, early news of Wuhan, China and the wariness of an uncontainable contagion had been seeping into our collective consciousness, and it wouldn’t be long before we were all asking, or at least thinking, about the where and when of a larger spread. By the time of the inevitable cessation of NBA play, our thoughts were not so much a result of surprise, but the inevitability we all knew or suspected. Matters only mushroomed from there, in each and every facet of life.
The rapid proliferation of a lethal disease came at us in waves, a sea of tragedy compounded by sheer ineptitude and negligence at the highest levels of the federal government, embodied by a petulant and narcissistic loaf of a man with an incongruous blonde up-and-over swirl of hair offset by an orange spray tan and pale piggish eyes. If there happens to be an insulted reader or two out of a scant handful that still pays any attention to a microblog that’s way past any imagined prime, that’s okay—I don’t give two fucks at this point. We’re three and a half years into a Category 5 shit storm of non-leadership, ripped from any norms of governance that still exist, with no standing left among nations we once held as allies, and with even less at home. But months of sickness, death and a shattered economic collapse from coronavirus wouldn’t deprive other societal disorders of their needed oxygen, case in point being the slithering rot of white nationalism spoon-fed by Dear Leader to fear mongers and blunderers, aggressors and dog whistlers, slack jaw feeders, bleaters and red coal carpet creepers. A steady stream of protectionism, harassment, brutality and murder amalgamated like a freeway pileup during a pandemic that had already rubbed a nation raw, culminating with an eight-minute, forty-six-second asphyxiation of George Floyd by a white cop who was so fucking nonchalant about a public execution that he actually kept his hands in his pockets while kneeling on the man’s neck, like a golfer lining up his next putt on a flawless green. That policeman and his three cohorts uncorked a levee that has been threatening to breech for a very long time. We don’t know where the surging tide will lead—it’s righteous hurt and anger, a human shapeshifter, purpose and peace, visible from space on 16th Street.
Sports is not a panacea for all that ails us, but it’s an endeavor that deals with success and failure, domination and disintegration. It can be inspiring and frustrating, unifying and dividing and whatever other words you want to toss into the bubbling stew, but I sure as hell would be okay watching a high-arcing shot from way downtown hitting nothing but net right around now. It has also become a late-night diversion that begins with rewatching NBA games from earlier in the season on a mobile device, and proceeds toward vain attempts to lull myself to sleep by imagining exactly what this sports experiment will actually look like. There have been all kinds of rumors and tidbits about the possibility of not having actual on-site play-by-play and color commentators, perhaps using drone cameras and positioning remote analysts in studios safely removed from the action, or even more confounding, the notion that head coaches over the age of 65 might not be allowed to roam the sidelines. That’s not gonna fly. There’s also news of a faction of players holding conference calls to debate the sustainability of playing in the Disney bubble and you can’t blame them for asking or wondering, given the volatility of the situation on the ground, as well as the optics of a league largely made up of black men being sequestered to entertain the masses. I have loads and loads of questions, like what will it be like for athletes to train and compete on an obstacle course that has never existed before, what will the viewing experience be like for an audience, and whether fans will be replaced by cardboard cutouts perched on blacked-out bleachers with subtle backlighting and ambient noise from an NBA 2K20 soundtrack? Where will the players live, what will they eat, what teams will advance and what’s the weather like in that neck of the woods in August anyway? I’m assuming high-90s and constant humidity that feels like a hot, wet towel draped across the face. Plus mosquitos the size of mutant bats.
I find myself with a lot of time on my hands these days. I’m not exactly hermetically sealed off in an alternative timeline but I do find myself staring at the screen a lot. I’m not sure whether up is down or down is up. I go to sleep later and I wake up later and I’m not entirely convinced that dreams are any less real than reality. The never-never land is a fragmented journey to get somewhere but the finish line is forever changing. References to the upcoming basketball reboot inevitably use Orlando as a key word but the resort is actually in Bay Lake, a city that was incorporated 53 years ago yet still only has a population of 51. The 23 square mile municipality is owned and controlled by the Walt Disney Company and its original residents were relocated a long, long time ago. These days, the only permanent townspeople live off the grid in a tiny cluster of mobile homes, surrounded by thick stands of pine trees and bodies of water. These hand-picked good folks are supposedly there to keep the cogs of bureaucracy running when it comes to matters such as land use and planning, but in truth, they mostly just live there, paying $75 a month in rent and watching the bobcats and manatees play. These aren’t your day-to-day Disney World employees tasked with actual nuts and bolts jobs at the theme parks, such as cashiering, food service and frolicking in brightly-colored tunics. Those people are uniformly referred to as Cast Members, and live in different residential communities where their rent is automatically deducted from electronic pay deposits. Regardless, it’s all part of Orange County, Florida, where coronavirus numbers are rapidly spiking upwards, even as the state continues on track to a full reopening. You can insulate a reboot of the National Basketball League all you want, but somebody’s got to serve Woody’s Box Lunches to hungry athletes. And at some point, the ripple effect of flag-draped boat rallies and 55 Other Best Things to Do in Orlando is going to make itself known. I could go on for a couple thousand more words but I won't. Which way was the starting line again?