This quarantine has done nothing but fuel my existentialism. Not mad at it though — I like the process of having a seemingly enigmatic thought and dismantling it until I unearth an answer that I’m satisfied with. I don’t have to like it, but I would like to understand it. Lately, I sometimes find myself wondering what the point of sport is. Since going without for months now, it's expected we have these musings. My brain has been smoothed by superficial notions of productivity (we learn, we work, we die), so when I witness passion through music, sports and art, I hold my breath in a display of reflex. What’s the catch?
There is no traditional quarterly goal with the mentioned modes of cultural production in order to be well regarded. It's all about the outcome — the creation itself. People create and add immeasurable contributions to the global zeitgeist. So, when we look back in time and attempt to walk in the shoes of those existing in that specific moment of the past, we look to music, sport, art and film as a way to gauge what the societal atmosphere was like. What did these people watch? What did they hear? Value? Enjoy? Cheer for or against?
These are the thoughts that swam through my head when I pondered whether the 2020 NBA championship would possess the weight and value of years past. There are several rules in the basketball world that define the value of a championship win. Losses due to extenuating circumstances, such as injury to star players, are stricken from the record, to an extent. Wins are devalued if they come at the expense of injury to the opposition or “lockout” years. It’s the way we satisfy our inherent need to rank, quantify and legitimize talent or success.
On the one hand, there are too many intrusive variables bleeding into current play in the bubble to document a championship winner without the dreaded asterisk. Players are bearing the weight and the psychological toll of being separated from family for months on end. This is all within the hurricane of the largest civil rights movement since, well, the civil rights movement, not to mention a global pandemic ravaging the state of Florida particularly harshly.
Although many may be able to maintain the “mamba mentality” required to succeed in such an environment, to expect all players to do so is myopic. Trauma exhausts us. It triggers fight or flight responses and cultivates stress reactions. It occupies our minds and throws us into a pit of anxieties. How it manifests itself on the court we have yet to see, but absent-mindedness and reduced court awareness shouldn’t be a shock to viewers.
Another variable to consider is the high probability of an outbreak of the virus within the bubble. The NBA itself acknowledged, and seems to be bracing for, the chance of this occurrence. A sick rotation player, let alone superstar, can challenge the integrity of the most balanced egalitarian systems. The race to the Finals and Larry O’Brien trophy will be a question of what organization has retained peak physical and mental health. If there’s anything we learned over the course of the last few months, it’s that these things are often times not in our control.
Players that experience a sort of stage fright before thousands of bombastic fans in packed arenas are sure to find themselves easing into shots they may not have otherwise attempted, and the same goes for those who struggle with free throws. Subsequently, professional shooters are already excited at the prospect of flexing their skillset in empty arenas. Orlando Magic sixth man and former Toronto Raptor Terrence Ross has already expressed such, commenting on an Instagram post that “the depth perception in these gyms are perfect. Don’t let a shooter get hot.”
On the other hand, one can substantially argue that this may be the most memorable championship win in recent memory. Considering the ultimate value of sport as a contribution to the collective consciousness and culture, the winner of the trophy during a time of widespread unrest and epidemic will be bookmarked in history forever. The bubble, and all of those within it, will be a relic and reflection of the desperation of fans to see sports again and the desperation of investors to see profits again. Under the best circumstances, the awarded team and their treacherous journey may be viewed as a demonstration of durability and will. Whether people like it or not, the 2020 NBA champions will exist in a realm of perpetuity. Whatever happens, we’ll never forget it and that is worth something.
There have been thorough debates regarding the ethics of resuming the NBA, and sports in general today. There is a pressure to play and there is a passion to play. More frequently than not, the line between the two is blurred. Regardless, the bubble experiment has commenced and I’ve found myself hoping for the most organized and safest of executions.
It seems, for observers, that most players themselves see this as a valuable moment in history to use their platform as a means to amplify protest and liberating rhetoric, so perhaps there isn’t a need to separate the postseason champion from this larger quest. Ultimately, the team to hoist the Larry O’Brien may be dealt with an asterisk to accompany their title for years to come, but any attempt to devalue or erase their contribution to the zeitgeist will be fruitless because, guess what? You’ll always remember it.
More Raptors coverage from Yahoo Sports Canada