NBA Hot Takes: Facing Challenges, Responding with Change


Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Jamie Creasi, Online Staff Writer

Over the course of the 2019-2020 NBA season, the televised organization experienced wrongly politicized ratings. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, players knelt during the national anthem to spread the word of justice. Many Republican lawmakers responded loudly, with harsh criticism and mockery. The NBA’s ratings dropped as well, but data shows that ratings in all national sports were lower during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, NBA teams have made a comeback in this 2020-2021 season, even opening with a 95% rating increase from last October. 

There were some major changes in the style and format of this year’s games. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically and drastically changed how sports are played out, and it will continue to do so before the end of this virus, and even in some cases, beyond that. 

This year the NBA has adopted a  baseball-style format, in which two games are played against their opponent, and then they move to the next city. Reports say that this could reduce travel by up to 25%, making it safer for the players in such a close contact sport. As freshman varsity basketball player Kaitlyn “Katie” Zarish-Yasunas shared, “Before COVID-19, athletes would have a game, and then the very next day, they would have to hurry and rush to get on an airplane.” This was “tiring and probably stressful on their bodies.” But with these new changes, “they get more time to rest.” She also added that “playing the same team multiple times gives you more time to prepare and strategize what worked and what didn’t.”

About a month before Christmas, the NBA’s Board of Governors held a meeting in which the proposal to shorten the season from 82 games to 72 games was carried out. This was done so that all the games would be able to finish in time for the Tokyo Olympics, which was rescheduled to begin on July 23, 2021. Freshman varsity basketball player Mia Hartman noted, “I felt that the game reduction was a smart decision on a health standard.” From the players’ perspectives, “a shortened season is better than no season, and protecting yourself and others is very important right now.” 

In the 2019-2020 season, 22 teams gathered at the Disney Bubble in Orlando, Florida. Almost four months after the NBA season shut down due to COVID-19 in March, players started showing up on July 7th. All the players were accommodated as best as possible with the safety protocols, which turned out to be very successful, as there were reportedly no COVID-19 cases after the games. Three Bubble Awards were each nominated to the Most Valuable Player (MVP), Best Play, and Top Rookie, which were handed to Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Michael Porter Jr. respectively. This season, the teams will be returning to their home stadiums. In response to this, Hartman explained that this perhaps wasn’t the best move, as it required “traveling from city to city and with the pandemic.” But to the players, “it probably felt good to be home.”

The delayed season was split into two segments, the first half from December 22 to March 4, and the second half from March 11 to May 16. Starting with this upcoming postseason opening on May 18, there was a new format for the playoffs that will include a “play in.” Here, a tenth-place team has a chance to make it to the seventh or eighth spot, which would take them to the playoffs. As freshman varsity basketball player Adriana Salzano expressed, “Honestly this is something different than we’ve seen before.” But this new format “is just allowing some more competition to happen.” She added that “it would be great for a team like the Knicks to have this opportunity to land a spot in the playoffs.”

Finally, this year’s NBA All-Star game began using a more, as Katie said, “competitive,” format. The teams will play to win each 12-minute quarter, and then in the final quarter, the clock is turned off. In this last quarter, there will be a set Final Target Score, and the team that is first to reach or go beyond that score would be the winner. As Katie shared, she not only loves this new format for its competitiveness but also because “they [the players] also play for charity.”

With the unusual season, there were quite a few changes made largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But while some of these changes are only temporary and circumstantial, it is inevitable that some of these changes will be permanent.