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Bubble vs. Reality: What can the NBA and the Raptors do once inside?

The Raptors, along with the rest of the NBA, are mostly settled into the Disney World bubble. Toronto even plays in its first scrimmage tomorrow. But what else can the team do?

2020 NBA Restart - All Access Practice Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

After weeks of hand-wringing that hasn’t really stopped, the Raptors take the court tomorrow for the first of three scrimmages. This exhibition contests will act as a team (and league-wide) tune-up before the 2019-20 eight-game regular season resumes — and before the playoffs begin in earnest.

While the NBA’s interest in a return is financial, they’ve definitely done a lot to create at least the appearance of an active and responsive model for other leagues to follow. (The NHL gets it, for the most part; MLB clearly does not.) While we can and should argue about the ethics of COVID-19 testing in the NBA’s Disney World bubble, at least the league is taking care.

Like it or not, the NBA is continuing on and that’s that.

Bubble

In that spirit, let’s reflect on what’s been going on so far. For one, we got our first glimpse of what NBA action is going to look like for the time being. Here’s a snapshot of the Heat and Kings playing yesterday, complete with massive video screens crowded with the faced of cheering fans and chants.

My opinion on this is... well, it’s a bit absurd isn’t it? I understand the league’s desire to dress up its product however it can to distract from the current situation, but still, come on: it feels weird, right? A part of me would have liked to have seen just what NBA basketball would look and feel like as just basketball — not basketball entertainment. In this, I realize I may be in the minority, my feelings not taking into account the fandom of children and casual viewers who need a little more visual sizzle with their (uh, visual) steak.

If I sound harsh here, that’s not my intention. I’m mostly just wondering how we all decided in the North American sports world that the games must be presented the way they are — with the directed video screen chants, the music during play, etc. Do players like this? Do they need a digital crowd cheering at them to focus their play? Is any of this necessary? As looks to be the case here, we may never really know.

On court play aside though, it sounds like NBA life has found a way to continue in Florida. We’ve gotten updates on haircuts, the continuing discussion on social justice (with the Raptors continuing to do their part), and a look at other important amenties.

As I said off the top, the NBA is doing what it can to make its Disney World bubble a one-stop shop for everything it needs to continue.

Reality

I promise to not make this section only about local news, but the implications of this latest Toronto-centric item — which has a provincial component as well — are far-reaching. While the NBA hunkers into its bubble, every effort has been made to make it as comfortable as possible for players and staff. The league, of course, wants to keep everyone happy and in one place, so this all makes sense. This approach doesn’t apply everywhere though, particularly the “every effort” part.

Yesterday, it was announced by Metrolinx, the organization responsible for coordinating and constructing transportation and transit projects in the Greater Toronto Area, is pulling out of a deal to donate land in the Jane Street and Finch Avenue West area of Toronto that had been earmarked for a new community hub for arts and culture. This is an atrocious bit of business for a bunch of reasons, so let’s get mad and get into a few of them here.

Now, if you know anything about Toronto, you’ve probably heard Jane and Finch invoked as a mythic urban boogie man, a terrifying no-go zone that only the brave should ever enter. (For the record, my father taught for years at since-closed Regina Pacis high school in the area and he’s fine.) This kind of talk is inspired by, yes, reports of crime in the area, gang- and gun-related violence that just so happens to come to areas left to decay. You see, areas like Jane and Finch (or Rexdale, where I’m from) are also filled with many poor and working class people, often Black or otherwise racialized. For them, only the police ever seem to be around — and they rarely come with a helping hand. As the racists would tell it, the violence that emerges in these communities is because of the people themselves. But anyone with a grasp on reality knows the violence is because of those very same cops, the institutional and systemic racism they enforce, and the crush (and criminalization) of poverty itself. The coincidences here aren’t coincidences at all.

So then, this is a story of a provincial institution, one entrusted with planning and building much-needed transit to service and enrich communities that have been — by design — left behind over the years in Toronto, going out of its way to renege on a deal that would have done exactly that. As has been pointed out across social and news media, this is a gross breach of trust, one that shatters Metrolinx’s credibility as an organization and crushes its ability to ever make a promise to any community ever again.

Now ask yourself: what would have happened if this community space had been promised to a different neighbourhood, one that wasn’t filled with the marginalized of society, one with more of a voice to fight back? It’s possible to conclude such a mistake would not be made in that hypothetical scenario — so why do it here? In our grim reality, I think the truth is this: Metrolinx believes they can get away with it. After all, it’s just Jane and Finch we’re talking about, it’s not stocked with wealthly and well-connected people, right? Right. So Metrolinx crunched the numbers and decided they’ll sell the land to the highest bidder, optics be damned. The community will just have to watch a condominium rise out of the ground instead, filled with housing many of them can’t afford.

But I also think Metrolinx has misjudged the situation. There are voices rising up in protest. And we don’t ever have to forget their grave mistake. In fact, we won’t. Not now, not ever.