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Dear NBA: Bring the Bubble to Canada!

Could — and should — the NBA bring its “bubble tournament” idea north of the border?

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re about two months in to the suspension of the 2019-20 NBA season, and folks are getting antsy. Some practice facilities are about to re-open (maybe?), league executives are closely monitoring sporting situations in Korea and Germany as those countries attempt to re-start leagues, and “bubble scenarios” are the talk of the town.

The main idea for the NBA playing out the end of its season and playoffs in a so-called bubble involves Disney World in Orlando; we’d send all of the teams and their players and personnel there, and ESPN of course, where they’d play out the end of the season and some sort of playoff tournament, isolated from the public. In other words: In a bubble! (Boy!)

Disney has all of its own facilities, and not just basketball courts and hotels: it’s got it’s own power plant! It is pretty much its own actual “world.” It makes sense, as far as locations go.

There’s just one problem, in my mind. Well, OK, there are dozens of problems. But, one big problem: Disney World is still in the United States, where there still 20,000+ new COVID-19 cases a day, where coronavirus tests are hard to come by and personal protective equipment is being fought over at various state and federal levels. Does it make any sense for anyone in the United States to start playing organized sports again, anywhere?

Which brings me to this: If the NBA really thinks the bubble idea is the best one, they should consider doing it outside of the United States.

And what better place to do it than Canada, the only other country in the world with an NBA team?

Could Canada Host an NBA Bubble Tournament?

Canada is the NBA’s second home. The Toronto Raptors are here! The Vancouver Grizzlies were here... and basketball was invented by a Canadian! We’ve had the NBA Draft, NBA All-Star Game, and the NBA Finals here. Oh, and the NBA Champions reside here too, lest you forget!

Canada makes sense as an NBA bubble host for a few reasons:

  • We have fewer per-capita cases of COVID-19 than our neighbours to the south, and although it’s still early, evidence points to our “curve” flattening faster than that of the U.S.
  • Our healthcare system, while still experiencing unprecedented stress levels, is ahead of the U.S. in terms of testing and available PPE for frontline workers at this time.
  • Our universal healthcare system, while far from perfect, is better positioned to help more people than the current U.S. system.

All in all, while any one person dying from this is too many, Canada is doing fairly well in its efforts to contain and stop the spread of COVID-19.

That might cover the health side of things, but do we have the facilities?

Does Canada have the facilities for an NBA Bubble Tournament?

We don’t have a Disney World, or anything like it. But we do have a more traditional facility that might make sense: The Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga.

The PFFC obviously has an NBA-sized court, as it’s used for the G-League and Raptors 905. Naturally, it’s a smaller venue in terms of capacity than your standard NBA arena, but that’s probably actually a good thing since there’ll be no fans in attendance.

A court isn’t enough, of course. The PFFC also has a practice court, plus a large fitness centre, not to mention an outdoor court and of course all kinds of space for other recreational activities. It also has meeting rooms and a lounge.

Now, I don’t know for sure if that’s enough. The NBA would probably prefer a facility where multiple games can be played at once, and the players might want something more upscale in terms of locker rooms and facilities. But we’re already so far removed from what’s “wanted” and what’s “needed” that I’m sure they could make it work.

Is Mississauga an Acceptable Bubble Location?

So let’s say the PFFC is an acceptable facility for hosting and playing an NBA basketball. What about the rest of the requirements?

The PFFC is close to Pearson International Airport, which makes it ideal for players coming into the country. There are multiple hotels close to the airport, and additional hotels closer to PFFC on Eglinton Avenue and Dixie Road; the NBA could “rent out” as many as needed, along with enough limos and buses to get players back and forth to the PFFC.

There aren’t a lot of upscale restaurants or nightlife nearby, but, the players wouldn’t be taking advantage of such things in this situation anyway. Presumably, the hotel kitchens could handle whatever food and dietary needs the players have.

From a safety standpoint I actually think isolating the players from the public would be even easier out there in Mississauga than it would in Toronto proper. And the PFFC is reasonably close to Trillium Mississauga and Credit Valley hospitals, should the worst happen.

Would NBA Players be Interested?

It’s gonna be tough enough to get every NBA player — and coach, assistant, trainer, equipment manager etc. — to leave their families and live in a hotel for two months (or more?) to play this out. Now we’re asking them to come to another country too? (Even if its geographically closer to a lot of players than Orlando is!) And play in the Toronto suburbs, at a G-League facility?

It’s a tough ask. Mississauga and the Paramount Fine Foods Centre certainly don’t have the same ring as Disney World. It sounds far less exciting than playing in Toronto, even. But does “cachet” matter here? Is just playing the games, and getting them televised, while keeping the players safe and secure all that matters?

I guess it depends on just how badly these guys want to play and finish out the season.

Should Canada and the PFFC host an NBA Bubble Tournament?

So here’s the bigger question: Without a vaccine, with the public still in some level of danger, does it make sense to execute this bubble idea?

Let’s be honest: It doesn’t, not really. For so many reasons:

  • Players will need to be tested. Those are tests that aren’t going to the public. The NBA already dealt with a public relations blowback when they first started testing players in March; I'm sure that negative perception still exists.
  • If one player acquires the virus, then the whole thing gets shut down all over again and it’s all for nothing.
  • And if multiple people test positive? Then we’re talking about a strain on our healthcare resources.
  • Not everyone involved in this is a healthy athlete in their prime years. Team personnel, including coaches, are often older and not in perfect shape. This would put them at much greater risk.
  • And what about the additional people who would need to be hired to make all this happen? Hotel and arena staff, television crews, security, bus drivers and so on? I suppose it’s job creation (or re-creation), which is good and needed but is it worth the risk? Just so some rich people can play basketball, and some even richer people can make more TV money?

If and NBA bubble tournament puts one person at risk or adds any strain to the healthcare system, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

Playing a bubble tournament in Canada might be a better, safer idea than Disney World. But it’s still not a great idea, not until we can declare it completely safe from COVID-19 concerns.