Basketball may be on hold, but the emphatic silence in the NBA bubble is something to behold

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The most noticeable difference in bubble life Thursday, besides the brief midafternoon downpour, was the silence.

The emphatic silence.

For the first time since the first bubble-arriving NBA teams emerged from quarantine 50 days ago, there were no practices. Or, for the second straight day, games.

Instead there were behind the scenes discussion between players, owners of the 13 teams left in the bubble, league and players association officials and labor relations committee chairman Michael Jordan about, among other issues, whether to resume playoff games Friday or Saturday.

Had the Milwaukee Bucks decided to play Orlando on Wednesday instead of not taking the court, leading to two days of postponements here, Thursday might have been the last day of the Mavericks’ season and thus my last full day in the bubble.

Instead of potentially driving back to North Texas on Friday, I’m grateful to still be here, where history has been made regardless of whether a champion is crowned in October or another dribble is taken.

Bubble life in many respects insulates us from what is happening in the real world, but it was impossible Wednesday to turn on a TV, open a laptop or turn on a smart phone and not see the nationwide resonance of what started here late that afternoon.

NHL playoff, Major League Baseball and WNBA games were postponed and NFL and college football practices were canceled as athletes of various sports and races joined NBA players in taking a symbolic stand against racism and police violence against unarmed persons of color.

Sports networks had to scramble for alternative programing. Sports fans had to find alternative forms of viewing entertainment — just as they did in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

And if it made some of those viewers stop and contemplate the reasons they were being forced to channel surf, all the better.

There is debate about how to characterize what happened here Wednesday and Thursday. Boycott? Strike? Walkout? Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, appearing Thursday on MSNBC, called it a pause.

From a purely basketball standpoint, it’s a lull that will give injured players like the Mavericks’ Kristaps Porzingis, the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley and the Rockets’ Russell Westbrook an extra 48-72 hours of healing time to potentially return to their respective lineups.

At the moment, though, any impact to the playoffs pales in importance to the reason why athletes across the country decided this pause was vital, amid still-raw emotions following Sunday’s shooting in Kenosha, Wis., of Jacob Blake in the back seven times by police who were responding to a domestic dispute call.

And given those emotions here in the bubble, it probably was best to put basketball on hold for a couple of days.

“You forget that being in the bubble is hard,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Thursday evening on Los Angeles’ Fox Price Ticket. “Listening to these guys speak, just mental awareness, we’ve got to be a little sharper on that.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that everyone in this bubble just seems to be a little more emotional.”

Thursday morning on the Coronado Springs Resort pool deck that my room faces, about 30 NBA referees who are here in the bubble to work playoff games assembled for a peaceful protest walk.

They wore black T-shirts and walked three times around the resort’s perimeter. Some Disney employees gathered near the resort’s entry road to cheer the referees as they walked past.

Referee Marc Davis noted that his group represented all persuasions, male and female, but most of them middle-aged.

“It’s really important to us that our young players know that we support them in our efforts, encourage them to keep moving forward,” Davis said. “This is not right vs. left. This is right vs. wrong. It’s everybody vs. racism.”

Late Wednesday night, as players from the 13 remaining bubble teams met in a ballroom in the aftermath of the three game postponements, some of the emotions to which Rivers alluded reportedly bubbled forth.

Some players reportedly expressed displeasure with the Bucks for blindsiding the other 12 teams with their decision to not play Wednesday’s game. Some reports stated that resentment as the reason the meeting was “ending ugly.”

Actually, it was the Bucks’ spontaneity that has made everything that’s since happened so powerful. It came from the Bucks’ hearts and minds and organically spread through the teams here and to athletes and teams around the country.

From a bubble perspective Thursday, amid the profound silence here and elsewhere, it was something to behold.

Find more Mavericks stories from The Dallas Morning News here.

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