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NHL

When The Bubble Bursts

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - AUGUST 30: The Vegas Golden Knights prepare to play against the Vancouver Canucks in Game Four of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 30, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The bubble has been, is, and will continue to be hailed as one of the great innovations in the history of sport if not medicine, because even though this was mostly about luck and minimizing risk, it will be graded against the pre-quarantine analysis that this was going to be virology’s go-to master’s thesis for the next seven decades. It may yet be, but the ending will probably be anticlimactic because the only rubric anyone was using for measurement was “Did we get all of our inventory to the suckers who own the TV networks?” They did, so they win.

But it isn’t just the bubble that we speak of here but the entire post-Gobert sporting diaspora. The bubble, after all, isn’t just the physical compounds that encased the NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLS, but all the games that have been played before nobody, next to nobody, percentages of nobody, and in a particularly inspiring tribute to the idea of paying for the right to nothing, the cardboard effigies of fans who couldn’t be there but wanted the illusion of same. This summer, everything is in the bubble, bubble or no bubble.

The bubble as an extended concept hasn’t worked for everyone, and in fact is not the future of sports as we know it. For one, there is still money to be bilked from local cities for new stadiums, gymnasiums and casinos, and the billionaire malignants who loom over your taxes like vultures spotting an open body cavity aren’t giving that up until the revolution, or until capitalism transforms into its next phase—cannibalism for sport.

So let’s see who the summer of bubble didn’t serve so well, starting with:

THE ATHLETES THEMSELVES

Both NBA and NHL players found the isolation and lack of freedom of movement debilitating, and one suspects that it will be a long while before their unions submit to this scheme again. All the games got played (yay commerce!), but the toll on the players is still being totted up, and nobody who has left the bubble due to having no more games to play has raved about the experience. That’s not to say that Lou Williams, Kemah Siverand, or Danuel House found solutions to the problem, but at least Wiliams scratched his takeout itches before entering Orlando rather than try to sneak girls into quarantined areas. And speaking of which . . .

THE LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

In a festival of blown and nearly blown 3-1 leads in these postseasons (don’t forget the three Stanley Cup quarterfinals), the Clippers set a new standard for tracheal blockages by pissing away an aggregate 79 points in second halves (plus 2:54 of Game 5) to the Denver Nuggets, and have been savaged ever since as being the Clipsiest Clippers to ever Clip. Of course, they took you all with them as they writhed on the ground tearing at their obstructed esophagii. They were supposed to win the NBA title, remember, and you picked them with a metaphysical certitude that frankly looks insane in hindsight. All of you did it. Don’t be looking away. You all bought in with your pockets turned out, and now you feel like a complete pack of charlies. The Clippers wiped out any vestiges of the Utah Jazz doing it a round earlier, or the Golden States and Oklahoma Citys four years back. This is the new standard, and it will be hard to top. Honorable mention to the Milwaukee Bucks, whose structural flaws despite Giannis were obscured by the Clippers’ barrel roll into the sea.

NEW YORK AND ENVIRONS

Other than the Yankees and the perpetually nomadic Islanders, this summer and the beginning of fall have perfectly dreadful—all the way to the point where almost none of them got to be in the bubble but still had to face their disgraces out in the open, a terrible place to anger New Yorkers. In fact, the Yankees had enough injuries early on to derail their gig as well, and the brewing Yankee Letters scandal may damage the franchise on a more elemental level. But the rest of it is breathtaking in its majestic failurescape. The Mets got sold to a billionaire, Steve Cohen, with a pockmarked financial history whose legacy will be that he made people nostalgic for the Wilpons. The Knicks sucked too much to make the NBA’S last 22 and remain the catarrh standard for pro basketball unless you want to count the 2-20 Liberty or the quickly dispatched shards of the Nets. The Devils missed the top 24, the Rangers got swept out of the first round, and the Jets and Giants look to be so bad that they will be fighting it to see who gets the pick before the first pick of the draft.

Oh, and Rutgers. Never forget Rutgers.

THE OWNERS

Not entirely bubble-related but ancillary to the entire summer of shame that the modified games could not entirely hide, there was Danny Snyder on fire and the Wilpons and Dell Loy Hansen of Real Salt Lake and Kelly Loeffler, anyway. Oh, there were others who took their beatings financially, like the DeVos family (cruise ships), Tilman Fertitta (restaurants, casinos, and associated leisure industries) and Stan Kroenke (new building, lots of required oohs and ahhs from the sycophant armies who do so either by employment or access pressures, but no fans to pour money in to fill that $5B hole in his portfolio), but the Wilpons squeezed themselves out of ownership and had to sell to Cohen, whom they desperately didn’t want to sell to. Hansen took personal offense to his players skipping a practice to make a statement about social justice, and so, and after other incidents of racial insensitivity, put his team on the market under pressure from MLS to piss off. Loeffler still owns her share of the Atlanta Dream but after some dogwhistling about the players’ social concerns and some associated election-year pandering (she is slightly ahead of not-that Doug Collins for the Georgia Senate seat) has been rendered nationally comical. On the other hand, since most of them are billionaires, their general wealth has increased as part of the pandemic boom for people who already have plenty.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Never mind the damage to the industry’s reputation for fooling people into thinking this was ever anything other than business. They’re still losing games each week to COVID outbreaks even as their presidents get cold feet about leaving any money on the table in this stark dietary year. I mean, when Notre Dame takes the week off in deference to the virus, you can sense that the rush to play was, well, rushed.

AND FINALLY, THE NFL

For giving us the worst injury-based start to a season since…oh, hell, let some math major at Pro Football Focus sort it out. It’s the season of A, C and L, and nobody’s winning their fantasy league this year. But at least coaches who claim to have gotten COVID are not wearing masks because it’s just too hard. Five head coaches have been fined less than the equivalent of Michael Badgley, so yeah, there’s a hard lesson to learn. If the summer of bubble has taught us anything, it’s probably that we could stand to thin the herd a bit.