NBA bubble excitement great for fans, not worth mental health risk for players

In dark and uncertain times wrought by the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the success of the NBA bubble has served the purpose of lodestar, as the world fumbles its way to a vague new normal.

With frequent testing and no cases recorded, it certainly seems the NBA is pulling off the Florida bubble experiment, so far. Like so many successes, however, we know it comes at great cost. In this case, I fear the ones picking up the tab will be the league’s stars, with no less than their mental health being the price to pay.

For the most part, the athletes are showing exemplary discipline by sticking to the strict protocols of the biosecure experiment, but at what cost?

Generally, the world is captivated by the way COVID-19 is pushing us creatively. In this case, the Disney World bubble has allowed NBA fans to enjoy energetic, competitive in-demand games. Basketball lovers are happy to ignore ‘strange’ aspects of the stadium for an experience closer to normal.

I recently read an article by Men’s Journal titled, ‘The NBA’s COVID-Free Return Is About A Lot More Than Just Basketball.’ It listed the different characteristics of a game before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No amount of virtual fans will stop me from noticing the sealed booths for announcers and stat keepers, the masks everywhere. At certain angles, the court seems to be floating in the black vacuum of space, and when players run to save a ball from the sideline, they disappear into the shadows and for a second I wonder if they’ve fallen into some abyss.”

However, the article went on to state, “But, while the game is going, I forget. I forget about all the strangeness and the world seems normal again. And I’m noticing less the more basketball I watch. The restart of the NBA is evidence that people can get used to anything.”

It’s all fun and games to enjoy the very best aspects of the sporting endeavor, but deadly serious to ignore the mental health impact of COVID-19 on athletes.

The COVID-19 mental health implications are an all too real effect of the pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, it greatly increases the stress level of the population at large and has other psychological effects.

“In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol, and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.”

Clippers’ Paul George experienced anxiety and depression inside the isolation of the NBA bubble. Though the player was a staunch advocate for creating a safe playing environment, he admitted, “but at the same time, it’s rough.”

Authenticating George’s mental state problems was the team’s coach, Doc Rivers. He opined, “This is not a normal environment, OK? It just isn’t.”

It was only through conversations with the team’s psychiatrist, coach, teammates, and close family members that his spirit was lifted.

Sure, reuniting with family members in the bubble gives players some mental stability but not all players have families or even want them in an isolated environment.

Such considerations are perfectly understandable, managing a family situation within the bubble can be a tricky situation. For children, there is no place like home, what happens when they start getting bored? How do they cope with the situation mentally?

Families began arriving in the Orlando area last week so they could quarantine before being permitted to the bubble. Once inside, they will be subjected to the same daily coronavirus testing and mandatory wearing of masks as players and staff, which can be another stressful situation in and of itself.