With the shortest offseason in NBA history and players constantly being sidelined as part of COVID health and safety protocols, this season has been unlike any other. Last season, players were in the bubble after the season’s sudden shutdown--a resort in Orlando, Florida which allowed minimal guests and required frequent COVID testing. After the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in a 4-2 series and were named the 2020 champions in October, it would only be a short while until they’d all be back on the court, competing for another title.
Despite criticism and the bubble’s success, as the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver pushed the NBA to return to somewhat normal. This decision was met with hesitancy from both players and fans as the short offseason would lead to little adjustment time for struggling teams and players being more prone to injury. The 2020-21 season, nonetheless, started shortly before Christmas Day.
At first, COVID absolutely ripped through teams’ locker rooms, leaving their rosters shorthanded and a series of postponed games as well. Eventually, arenas started opening up to fans and continue to do so as capacities increase. Although it’s not required by the league, plenty of players have been vaccinated and teams have released PSA-like videos on their social media pages, urging fans to do the same to keep their communities safe and reduce vaccine hesitancy.
The latest COVID case in the league was confirmed on June 17, 2021: Chris Paul from the Phoenix Suns (even though he was reportedly vaccinated). This comes just days after the Suns swept the Denver Nuggets, advancing to the West Conference Finals for the first time in over ten years. In the final game of the series, Paul was electric with 37 points, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds. This was an unexpected hit the Suns took and as he is now in the league’s health protocols, it is unclear when he’ll be cleared to play again.
Past the COVID cases, the league has also dealt with an absurd amount of injuries. Some didn’t last long and players were reevaluated every couple of weeks before being game-time decisions, while other injuries were season-ending for others. Players who suffered injuries this season include: Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell (ankle) and Mike Conley (hamstring), Sixers’ Danny Green (calf) and Joel Embiid (knee), Pelicans’ Zion Williamson (finger), Heat’s Victor Oladipo (quads), Bucks’ Donte Divincenzo (ankle), Lakers’ Anthony Davis (groin) and LeBron James (ankle), Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (knee), Nets’ Kyrie Irving (ankle), Celtics’ Kemba Walker (knee) and Jaylen Brown (wrist), and Mavericks’ Luka Doncic (neck)--just to name a few.
LeBron James has been rather vocal about his disappointment with the league, especially following the recent slew of injuries. On June 16, 2021, James tweeted a series of statements directed at the league, reading “They all didn’t wanna listen to me about the start of the season. I knew exactly what would happen. I only wanted to protect the well being of the players...I speak for the health of all our players and I hate to see this many injuries this time of the year. Sorry fans wish you guys were seeing all your fav guys right now.”
Unfortunately for the league and those involved with the NBA, it still gets worse. Another disturbing trend has been fan-related incidents, many of which ended with bans from the arena, arrests, and criminal charges. In separate instances, fans have chucked a water bottle at Kyrie Irving, dumped popcorn on Russell Westbrook as he was entering the tunnel after aggravating an injury, spat on Trae Young when he was at the free throw line, verbally assaulted Ja Morant’s family in the stands, thrown a beer bottle towards Immanuel Quickley, etc. The league issued an updated version of the Fan Code of Conduct shortly after these incidents were all investigated.
Tension also remains off the court as the front office continues to make dramatic changes. The Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, and Dallas Mavericks have all parted ways from their head coaches Scott Brooks, Stan Van Gundy, Terry Stotts, and Rick Carlisle either as a result of contract disagreements or willingly stepping down. The Boston Celtics are also looking for a new head coach as their former coach, Brad Stevens, is becoming the Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations. It is speculated that only more changes are yet to come. After such a wild NBA season soon coming to a close, it’ll be interesting to see how the league responds to these issues and ultimately, what’ll come out of all the chaos.