By Orrin Farries
The year 2020 has thrown many curve balls at the major sporting organizations that provide the week-to-week entertainment that many fans have become accustomed to.
The NHL and the NBA both had to put their seasons on hold, and both came back with vigour to conclude their seasons and to provide finality in place of the uncertainty.
To the respite of sports fans across the world (but mostly North America), the ‘bubbles’ that kept the athletes safe to finish off their seasons have finally popped, the dust has settled, and now the real work has begun to effectively restart both of these leagues that would, in a ‘normal’ year, have already begun their next seasons.
The Stanley Cup playoffs took place in Toronto and here in Edmonton, and much to the chagrin of Oilers fans, the boys in copper and blue were not able to figure into the battle for hockey’s top prize. Another team in blue, the Tampa Bay Lightning, were able to cap off an incredible year with a vindicating Stanley Cup triumph over the Dallas Stars. With the NHL free agency period in full swing, teams will look to retool and look ahead to the next season, which still hangs in the air like moist water droplets.
The NBA playoffs took place in a bubble at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and the legions of Los Angeles Lakers fans across the globe were able to find relief that the King himself, LeBron James, was able to bring glory back to Los Angeles, fittingly winning the championship to eternally memorialize the passing of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died in February 2020 along with his daughter Gianna and 9 others in a horrific helicopter crash.
Neither of these championships came without controversy. The term ‘Covid Cup’ has been tossed around a lot, and the general discussion by fans whose teams did not win has been that these championships should have asterisks beside them. This unchecked aggression will not stand, man.
The only qualifier that either of these championships should have is that they were won by teams of coaches and athletes who had to sacrifice more than just the usual time away from their families. The only caveat talked about should be that amidst uncertainty and a strange new normal that the teams were able to put their heads down and do their jobs.
The championship air has been cleared for the NBA and NHL, and barring a catastrophic outbreak, the MLB should be able to finish out their pandemic-shortened season with the declaration of a World Series champion. The biggest question that lies ahead for sports in North America is, what will next season look like?
Whatever 2021 has in store for professional sports, change is the one thing that is certain. Just because the NBA and NHL were able to bubble wrap themselves to complete this season, it should not be taken as a given that that will be the case for next season.
Undoubtedly both the NHL and the NBA have taken significant financial losses to ensure their seasons could be wrapped up with a bow. However, it behooves these leagues to find a feasible and safe way to bring back some of the ‘old normal’ of sports: teams on the road, and fans in the stands. The first one can be accomplished easily enough, with the MLB and the NFL both showing a modicum of success with resuming their seasons with full travel. Getting the fans back in arenas, which is paramount to the financial stability of professional sports, is still a work in progress.
The bubble experience of the NBA and NHL were an absolute trip for sports fans. When the games were brought back on it was pure ecstasy of television programming. Non-stop action for days on end, and an intimate feeling of watching the players perform at the highest level with no one in the stands.
While the world continues to move on in the face of pandemic uncertainty, one thing is certain: sports will find a way.