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Common Reading 2021: What I Learned Inside the NBA Bubble by Sam Anderson

What I Learned Inside the NBA Bubble — Sam Anderson

New York Times writer Sam Anderson reports on his experience inside the N.B.A. Bubble in Disney World over the summer of 2020. Anderson begins his journey by explaining the quarantine and testing process that he and the players went through in order to preserve the safety of the bubble. The NBA worked with Yale to develop a faster, more accurate way of testing for COVID. Meanwhile, players embraced the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, using their platform to fight voter suppression and the spread of misinformation.

About the Author

Sam Anderson is the author of Boom Town. Anderson is a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine. He is a recipient of the Balakian Award for Excellence in Criticism from the National Book Critics Circle, and the National Magazine Award for his article about Michelangelo's David.

Discussion Questions

1. What was the social or cultural value of the NBA basketball bubble? Was it worth the hassle and expense?

2. Can celebrity advocacy be used to positively affect a community? How so?

3. How did you try to maintain a sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 shutdown? 

Class Activity

Some people believe that athlete activism is a relatively new phenomenon, but it goes back much further than Collin Kaepernick's Black Lives Matter kneeling protests. Research the history of athlete activists, including those involved in the NBA Bubble, if you'd like. Explore what they fought for and how they helped further their causes. 

Introduction — Sharief Hashim

“What I Learned Inside the N.B.A Bubble,” by Sam Anderson illustrates the NBA’s ability to efficiently adapt to the pandemic after isolating its league to the confines of Walt Disney World. The article guides the reader on a path of pandemic-style basketball consciousness. As Anderson passionately describes his adoration for all things Portland Trailblazers, I drew comparisons to Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry, which artfully describes the game in “Slam Dunk & Hook.” Anderson’s piece serves as a reminder of what took place outside of the “bubble,” just as much as what took place inside. It seems that “bubble basketball,” was surprisingly very, very good basketball. Isolating the players from traditional real-world distractions produced an excellent and entertaining sport product. To quote Komunyakaa, “our bodies spun on swivels of bone and faith, and we knew we were beautiful and dangerous.”

More importantly, though, Anderson also describes the NBA’s ability to adapt to last summer’s social unrest. The deaths of Ahmaud Aubrey, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake forced the NBA to partner with its players association and support the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, there were NBA fans across the country who refused to watch bubble basketball because they disagreed with the BLM messaging. Anderson suggests the BLM branding simply became part of the game. As you read, ask yourself if you would refuse to watch an excellent and entertaining sport product because you disagreed with the respective league’s stance on social issues? Why or why not?

Inside the NBA Bubble

Additional Resources

Lay ups. Fast breaks.

We had moves we didn't know

We had. Our bodies spun

On swivels of bone & faith,

Through a lyric slipknot

Of joy, & we knew we were

Beautiful & dangerous.

from "Slam, Dunk, & Hook" by Yusef Komunyakaa

Read the full poem at the Poetry Foundation


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