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Europe’s second wave of coronavirus shows us that a bubble is the only way to go for the next NBA season

The second wave has started. Europe has it worse than the United States for now, but the wave also shows what the NBA should do regardless of when next season starts.

Things aren’t so rosy in Brussels after all. But at least the Benelux’s leaders are following face mask guidelines. You can also see Netherlands Prime Minister elbow bumping European Council President Charles Michel while Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is in front.
Photo by STEPHANIE LECOCQ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

I’ve praised the European Union for their coronavirus management on this site. And they deserve it given how swift their measures were for the first wave. But we knew a second wave was coming.

And it has, witha vengeance.

Last spring, the EU member states that had the most COVID-19 cases were Spain, Italy and France. But today, the member states with the worst outbreaks are the Czech Republic, Belgium and the Netherlands. Regardless, it’s only a matter of time before cases rise in the United States exponentially again — perhaps in just a week.

Now, you don’t read this site to read how COVID-19 is going on in Prague, Brussels or The Hague. But again, what the Czechs, Belgians and Dutch are going through is a preview of what will likely happen here in the United States in the coming weeks. And that has implications on what will happen in sports.

So far in Europe, most soccer leagues are continuing games as scheduled, without fans. And the same goes for basketball. Teams are more or less adopting an NFL or MLB style model where teams test regularly but players can continue to go home. The top European teams in soccer and basketball play in multiple leagues however.

But when it’s time for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League in soccer — or for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7Days EuroCup for basketball, teams may be traveling from some combination of the EU’s Schengen Area to the United Kingdom, Turkey or Russia. In today’s era of travel bans or mandated 14-day quarantines, that can make things very difficult. But ultimately, governments have given exemptions to teams so games can go on without delay.

Still, that hasn’t prevented the virus from infecting many players in the last few months.

So far in the US, we haven’t seen the NFL or MLB postpone or cancel many games due to coronavirus outbreaks. But a growing number of games have been postponed at the Division I FBS level. Should the number of cases rise exponentially this week and next, we can expect more hiccups because players are ulitmately going back to regular conditions where the virus could be out and about.

And that leads me to something I believed all along: The 2021 NBA season needs to be in a bubble, especially if the season plans on starting in the winter while various parts of the United States could be in a wave. (And yes, I get that the Toronto Raptors play in Canada, but I assume they will have to play another season outside of their country to make things work.)

It’s clear why. Yes, facemasks and social distancing work in limiting the spread. But it can’t stop everything. The NBA’s bubble, while restrictive, was a success. There were no reported COVID-19 cases once initial quarantines ended.

Yes, the bubble was mentally taxing on the players and families couldn’t see them personally for weeks. But again, the season had no coronavirus-induced interruptions last summer. The one interruption that happened was related to social justice reasons, not the virus. Doing anything else will almost guarantee that some teams will eventually get many positive cases and that could put a wrench in their goals of winning a championship.

Is it possible that teams could do something to limit the isolation players were feeling this past summer? Yes, there could be a midseason break to allow players to go home to their families. And it could increase the number of players getting the virus before they return for a second half of the season. But that seems like a fair compromise after seeing how successful the NBA bubble was last summer, while also understanding that the environment was restrictive and mentally taxing.

If the NBA decides to flip a coin and start next season in home markets and allow players to live at home like the NFL, MLB and European sports mostly have, then I think it will lead to more in-season coronavirus cases and season interruptions.

The past few months have been mentally taxing for everyone, including the players, coaches, commentators, and you and me. But with sports restarting under circumstances, I think we’ve seen a model for what works and what doesn’t. The NBA’s model last summer worked.

So as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.