NBA return provides an escape from the ongoing pandemic

Last night, in the middle of a pandemic, I watched a live NBA game on TV.

Where the players were playing, inside a so-called "bubble," there were no fans, besides pixelated faces on a giant screen above the court. There was little sound, besides the announcers and some noise pumped in when the designated "home" team scored.

There was, however, basketball. A team to cheer for. A team to cheer against. Referees to scream profanities at from my couch.

I was skeptical any sports could return without a COVID-19 vaccine or cure. As case counts spiked in Florida, the NBA created an Orlando bubble — some kind of fantasyland where everyone would wear masks, get tested regularly and follow social distancing guidelines. So far it's worked. The virus hasn't infected any players inside.

Still, I doubted I could care about sports the same way I once did. If a team wins inside a fanless bubble, does it mean anything? I've always hated "sportsball" jokes from people who don't understand sports, but I started to see their point. Why should anybody's safety be risked for a game? Why should we care about sports when, outside the bubble, there are many more important issues?

In a way, I've spent most of my days in a bubble since March. It's not as fun as the NBA's. Inside it are me, my two cats, my makeshift work desk and the lingering angst over whether leaving this space will cause me to catch COVID-19. Time drags on. It felt like four years ago when the NBA had to pause the season because a player tested positive, leading every other sports league to follow suit.

So I watched the first night of games with some reservations. Yet despite the weirdness of a game played without a crowd, I was surprised at how much felt the same.

As soon as the game started, I stopped thinking about the pandemic, or about the fact that it had been days since I left my apartment. I got caught up in the narrative, remembering that my team, the Los Angeles Lakers, needed to win this game if they were really the championship contender I thought.

I cheered when we scored. I yelled when the other team did. And when Lebron James made the game-winning shot, I leapt out of the couch and jumped up and down with joy, neglecting to consider how it might wake my downstairs neighbor.

For a moment, I forgot I was in a bubble. ♦