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Bubble vs. Reality: Doing the right thing with the Raptors during a pandemic

The Raptors have been leading the way when it comes to the optics of the Bubble restart. There are matters of basketball and social justice, but let’s not forget the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Toronto Raptors v Orlando Magic Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Raptors moved to 3-0 in the Bubble last night, and have now won seven games in a row dating back to March. It’s been some kind of run for Toronto, even as the situation has mutated quite dramatically into what it is now. One constant though: Raptors fans getting up in arms about perceived slights from American media.

Look, the bald truth of it is, obviously the NBA would prefer for some of its biggest stars (and largest markets) to break through in the Bubble and be there at the end, competing for a title. If the Finals are somehow, say, Toronto vs. Denver, surely someone in the league office will be losing his or her mind. That’s not to say some grand conspiracy is involved here — please believe me, I am not saying that — but having, for example, LeBron James with the trophy in one hand and a microphone in the other at the end of all this is definitely seen as a good thing for the league.

So, yes, that’s been the mood around the Raptors so far. It’s been celebratory — this team remains very good — but also a bit aggrieved. This is how it’s generally gone more often than not for Toronto fans over the past few years. Now, let’s unpack that first and then get to some more serious matters.


To paraphrase a line from The Matrix, I’m unclear on who struck first — us or them — but it was Raptors fans who scorched the sky. That is to say, there was a brief dust-up on social media as various people took to firing shots at journalists and reporters who seemed to just now notice that the Raptors were in fact quite a good basketball team. The end result, if I must say it: Raptors fans came off looking a tad petty and needlessly angry.

Now hold on, let me explain. I’m not letting those same journalists and reporters off the hook for being apparently clueless in this matter. I don’t actually believe they are clueless in this matter. I think some of us are just reading it as such, spoiling for a fight. For their part, the NBA media apparatus has to document what they’re seeing and that includes the Raptors coming out and dominating teams with their defense. It happened down the stretch against the Lakers, it came into play against the Heat, and it was applicable against the Magic as well. If you detect surprise in the reports from the Bubble (and outside it), please try to remember that these are just reports of what’s happening — even if we already knew it would happen.

Also, related: maybe let’s relax a bit now that the Raptors are the defending champions. That was the part of the deal in winning the title. We no longer have to worry about being slighted here, there, or anywhere. We don’t even have to worry about LeBron stuffing us in a locker anymore. The Raptors have done it all — let’s just be comfortable and confident in that feeling. There are enough stressful things going on in the world right now as it is.


Do you hear the modest roar of the crowd after a nice bucket in an NBA game and forget, if for only a split second, that the noise is fake? Does this happen to you? I’ve noticed it happens half a dozen times per game for me. OG Anunoby dunks the ball, for example, the crowd goes wild, and then I remember: oh yeah, there is no crowd. The Raptors are in the so-called Disney World Bubble, in the U.S. state of Florida, which is currently being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Taken altogether, sometimes all I can muster in response is: oof.

There have been various reasons to feel low about this whole NBA restart. Setting aside the ongoing fights for social justice — which are seeing results, but will take more time — we often have to be reminded of the still ongoing COVID-19 situation. Yes, I know no one wants to be reminded of such things, but this is the reality section of this column, which means we have to confront the real world as best we can. The NBA finding a way to finish its 2019-20 season is nice in a way, but it points to a host of other larger problems, some of which remain unsolved (or willfully ignored by the people in power). For the NBA, even in the micro, the optics aren’t always the best.

Take the situation with Terence Davis. He was photographed in the Bubble with a noticeable hole in his face mask. It’s the kind of dumb stunt you’d pull if you were trying to make a point. Looking into TD’s social media feed suggests exactly that, and the point he was perhaps trying to make was just as dumb as the stunt. The second you start hearing an internet personality talking about “boosting your immune system” in the face of a global pandemic, it’s time to start walking the other way. In response to all of this, both Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster were quick to confirm: “Leadership is taking care of it.”

What struck me when I tweeted about it (on both the HQ and my personal account) were some of the responses in support of Davis. Some suggested he was free to make his own choice, others wondered what the big deal was — weren’t the players getting tested constantly? To tackle the first part: yes, Davis is free to think for himself, but so is the NBA. In this, they’ve been clear with the health guidelines to be followed by every player in the Bubble. Don’t like those rules? Davis is also free to accept his fine from the league, or to just leave the Bubble and wait it out. Free choice doesn’t mean free from consequences — for oneself or others.

As for the second part, there’s a touch more to discuss here. Yes, the players are indeed getting tested for coronavirus regularly as part of the league’s mandate to monitor the situation and keep the Bubble as solid as possible. But it’s worth remembering that there is a nation-wide testing shortage in America (thanks to its absolutely bankrupt political leadership). This means every test an NBA player gets is one less available for so-and-so off the street, a person perhaps without health insurance or millions of dollars. Now, I want to be clear, it’s not like the NBA is stealing these tests out of the hands of people who need them. But again: the optics of the situation are not great. And it’s worse still when you consider the Disney World staff (who are not receiving any hazard pay), coming and going from the Bubble without getting regularly tested. They deserve protection too.

So yes, Davis can exercise personal choices, and the NBA can have players competing against each other and getting all up in each other’s business, pandemic be damned. But not everyone gets to make those same choices. Some people have to go back to work, some are just trying to get by, and some — most, in fact — do not have leadership taking care of it.

What happens to them?