The NBA is back, sans bubble, but still feels like a dress rehearsal for normal times

Where the fans at? Sadly, not yet. Wear a damn mask.
Image: AP

The NBA returned last night, and there was relief in most circles that the daily rhythm of sports will return with it. Since the Dodgers recorded the final out of the World Series, essentially the work week has been blank, at least for professional sports. We’re used to moving from baseball’s climax to the nightly results of NBA and NHL games rolling in as we settle back into the hum of the regular winter season(s). Didn’t have that this time, as for about six weeks there were NFL games bookending and filling the weekend, and then nothing.

And yet, with the NBA starting up again, and the NHL not too far behind now, officially, something didn’t seem right. We went four months without the NBA in the spring, and we accepted the Orlando bubble as a necessity for where we were at the time. Sure, it looked weird, it sounded weird, but that’s what we had to do. Basketball in a glorified TV studio, which is what the Disney World campus essentially was, and what it had to be.

This time around, the league is trying to get as close to “normal” as it can, but watching the games from Brooklyn and Los Angeles, you knew it wasn’t anywhere close. The darkened out stands, the announcers not on-site, the canned noise, it’s where we’ve been for nine months now.

It just feels like it’s all a rehearsal for when things are back to what we recognize, except it counts. It’s a simulation almost, but it’s not. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be happening, or that it should, as the debates on that could rage forever. The NBA got through The Bubble without putting anyone in danger, and they very well might get through this season doing the same.

I suppose at the end of the day it’s the best anyone can do. Perhaps the constant narratives of revenues lost, or fights over TV money just get too heavy to ignore, and that goes with every sport.

Perhaps it’s just the separation that comes through the screen. When the stadium or arena is full, even though you’re watching at home, everyone feels together, at least in a way. You see the fans and players on screen doing the same things you are at home. Maybe it’s fake camaraderie, but it’s what we’ve been doing. It was taking place in your town, or someone’s town, and it was accessible.

With the games last night looking the same as they were in Orlando or Edmonton or Toronto, it feels like they could be anywhere. It doesn’t matter that it’s in Staples Center or Barclays Center, the places you can hit the train from Greenpoint or a quick drive down from Silver Lake. They could be Mars. Feels like it’s tunneled to somewhere else.

It won’t last forever. We’ll get back there. Just right now, it felt farther than anticipated.

As the NHL gets ready to get back to training camp, it did finally correct one of its bigger rule blemishes before the season. The offside rule was tweaked, so that a player’s skate does not have to be on the ice to be considered on-side. It just has to be on the side of the “plane” of the blue line. While there will still be the same number of reviews, most likely, it’s much easier to see through replay if a player’s skate is on either side of the line rather than whether or not it’s actually touching the ice or not. It should result in more goals, which the league is always on a quest for, as less plays will be offside and players will get that fraction of a second to move forward instead of holding the line.

Along with the new playoff rule, it’s pretty jarring to see the NHL get these things right, even if it’s the small stuff. Now if they could just get to that whole racism thing.


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