It’s been one year since the NBA made the pandemic real for a large number of people. Until March 11, the coronavirus had been in the news, but the world was still awaiting instruction. The day before the league went dark, the situation facing the world was officially named a pandemic, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson publicly announced they tested positive, and an arena full of NBA fans were sent home.
It would take five months for NBA play to resume, and even then only in a singular location. Not all teams were invited as the focus shifted to crowning an NBA champion after a short warm up session where teams played for a shot at the postseason. Fans were treated to appearing in the audience virtually while rooting for their favorite team. (I was busted texting the one time my face was on camera.)
In a year that should have otherwise deserved an asterisk, the Lakers proved they earned their title by remaining as the shine on the cobbled super team never dimmed.
The months hiatus pushed back free agency and the NBA draft as well as eliminating the various installments of Summer League. This threw the 2021 draft class right into the mix while withholding the usual conditioning and familiarity afforded to teams regrouping from the offseason.
A late start, an abbreviated season (although 40 games in 68 days would lend itself more to “crammed” than “shortened”), and a truncated All-Star Break (as opposed to the lack of, which can be argued either way) created a sense of timing resembling a normal season.
And today, fans will return to the AT&T Center, the biggest step toward a regular routine thus far.
Are we in a better place than a year ago? From a medical standpoint, vaccines are becoming available. From an economic standpoint, businesses (here in Texas) are allowed to reopen at 100% capacity. From a political standpoint, a new administration faces the same challenges and in typical D.C. style, folks agree or disagree along party lines whether it was what the last administration rooted for or against.
And from a basketball standpoint, the league has continued to be at the forefront of thoughtfulness when considering teams, players, fans, as well as arena staff and those in the line of fire.
The Spurs missed their Rodeo Road Trip due to a bevy of COVID protocols that sidelined a significant portion of the team. They were on a roll and now seem to have fallen off the wave they were riding. It might be just another game or two before they hit their stride again, or they may find themselves on the outside looking in for the remainder of the season.
What has the league gotten right? What has gone wrong? What can be improved upon? What changes have been established that should remain even after the masks are gone, the temperature checks have subsided, and the world is once again focused on something else first?
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