by Joseph Quirk ’23
Back in March, the NBA suspended its season following increasing concerns over the onset of COVID-19, along with the first player to test positive, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. The NBA, more than 75% through their 2019-2020 campaign, needed to then find a way to finish its season properly and safely. They did so by investing millions of dollars into creating a fun and entertaining, and most importantly secure, “bubble” at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The bubble started with 22 teams, all either within striking distance of a playoff spot or already in one. The format was simple: each team would play eight seeding games in order to officially name those who would move onto the playoffs, which gave the outside teams a chance at the eighth seed. The Phoenix Suns, an afterthought heading into the bubble, went 8-0 in the seeding games as star shooting guard Devin Booker played some of the best basketball of his career. However, they would just barely miss out on the eighth seed to the Portland Trail Blazers, who used the bubble to revive a tumultuous season filled with underachievement. With a squad of Hassan Whiteside, Jusuf Nurkić, C.J. McCollum and, of course, bubble MVP Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers were able to capture the Western Conference’s eighth seed thanks to a victory over Ja Morant’s Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in game.
The playoffs brought a batch of equally exciting games. Two young, up-and-coming teams in the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz went to seven games in a historic first round series. Denver would defeat the Jazz and move on to face the Los Angeles Clippers, a title contender led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Nuggets mounted a furious comeback to beat the Clippers in seven games before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. In the East, things unfolded as expected until the Milwaukee Bucks, led by back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, were knocked off by Jimmy Butler and a scrappy Miami Heat team. Butler and the Heat went on to beat the Boston Celtics and advance to the Finals where they would fall to the Lakers.
It always seemed inevitable that the Lakers would win the Finals. Not only were they one of the most talented teams in the world, featuring generational stars such as Lebron James and Anthony Davis, but they also had strong veteran players such as center Dwight Howard and point guard Rajon Rondo. The title significantly helps the legacy of James, who now has four NBA titles and four Finals MVPs on his resume. Important to note is that the Lakers were also playing in honor of franchise icon Kobe Bryant, who tragically passed away in a helicopter accident earlier this year.
Indeed, the fact that anyone was crowned a champion at all in this year of turmoil is something that the NBA should be proud of.
by Ryan Carius ’21
On Sept. 28, the Tampa Bay Lightning shut out the Dallas Stars 2-0, ending a six-game series in an unprecedented yet entertaining Stanley Cup matchup. Tampa Bay’s victory completed a two-month playoff bubble, which began on Aug. 1 and included 24 out of the 31 National Hockey League franchises. The Lightning skipped the qualifying rounds and entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay avenged last year’s shocking defeat against the Columbus Blue Jackets, dominated the Boston Bruins, and then skated past the New York Islanders on the way to their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in five years.
The Dallas Stars fought relentlessly, especially goaltender Anton Khudobin, but the Tampa Bay offense proved too much of a challenge for the young Dallas defenders. Tampa Bay centerman Brayden Point netted 14 goals and assisted on 19 other goals, a monumental performance for the young and rising star. However, it was Victor Hedman who took home the hardware awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hedman became the first defenseman to win the Conn Smyth trophy since Duncan Keith in 2015, when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning. In just 25 games, the 6-foot-6-inch skater recorded 10 goals and 22 points, setting franchise records for both total goals and points by a Tampa Bay defender.
Besides the championship, the most important outcome of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the success of the NHL bubble that occurred in two cities. The NHL became the first of the four major North American sport leagues to complete a postseason in the COVID-19 pandemic. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the two Canadian cities, Toronto, Ontario and Edmonton, Alberta, created an environment that ensured the safety of the players and staff. All personnel involved in daily bubble activity were divided into categories based on their roles and the people to whom they were exposed.
The NHL conducted 33,174 tests with zero positive cases among category one and category two personnel. Players, medical officials, and team and league staff members made up these first two categories. However, there were a few positive tests among category three and four personnel, which included individuals who had little exposure to the players but still participated in the bubble as hotel staff, cooks, and security officers.
The NHL and the NHL Player’s Association implemented Jan. 1, 2021 as the start of the next season. Bettman is optimistic for a “full regular season, and to have fans in the building, but there are a lot of things that have to transpire, many of which if not most of which are beyond our control before we can finalize our plans.” However, if the NHL needs to return to a bubble, Bettman can follow the success of this season to provide fans with entertaining and competitive hockey.