5 Ways Movies and T.V. Shows Prove the NBA Bubble Will Inevitably Burst

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed concern about the stability of the NBA’s bubble during an interview with ESPN last night, telling the sports news giant that Certainly if we had any sort of significant spread within our campus, we would be shut down again.” In separate comments Tuesday afternoon during a Fortune Brainstorm Health online conference session, Silver said of the bubble “It’s a very protected environment, but again this virus has humbled many and so I’m not going to express any higher level of confidence than we’re following the protocols and we hope it works as we designed it.”

The Commissioner seems at least somewhat realistic about the possibility of the virus penetrating the NBA’s security, and with good reason. The logistics of keeping this experiment on lock-down would be daunting with years to plan and sociological studies on the best approach, like we do with a theoretical six-month journey to Mars. Instead we have a hastily thrown together plan that is just looking destined to fail.

Silver committed a cardinal sin in this situation, saying “On paper and dealing with our experts, this should work.”

I beg to differ. He might as well be saying “I’ll be right back” in a horror movie or handing a gun to a Chekhov character at the end of the first act. Maybe this looks good on the NBA’s paper, but anyone who has ever seen a movie or T.V. show about this type of situation can tell you where this is heading pretty quickly.

For all his likely good intentions, Silver is unfortunately cast in the role of the Mayor of Amity trying to keep the beaches open, or perhaps as John Hammond misguidedly moving forward with his plans for Jurassic ParkHe either doesn’t recognize or doesn’t want to acknowledge the obvious, this is not going to work.

I mean, it’s not like anything bad happened when Hammond tried to contain his Raptors, right?

I’m not saying the NBA is going to need a team of guys with a cage, cattle prods and a shotgun to keep J.R. Smith from doing something dumb to violate quarantine, but I’m also not not saying that.

5 Ways Movies and T.V. Shows Prove That the NBA Bubble Will Inevitably Burst

The Stand – Breaking Quarantine and The Pull of Loved Ones

Stephen King’s The Stand, has basically come true at this point outside of (probably) the living Satan – a.k.a. Randall Flagg, a.k.a. the Walking Dude, a.k.a. the Dark Man – plot-line. In the story, a virus nicknamed Captain Trips wipes out most of the world’s population over the course of a single summer. In both the original novel and the 1994 mini-series of the same name we see the initial outbreak of the virus as it happens.

Working at a military base in the American Southwest security guard Charles Campion hears the alarm bells go off while he’s on shift. Instead of following protocol and closing the base he reacts by doing what most husbands and fathers likely would in this situation, grabbing his family and making a run for it.

What Campion didn’t know at the time was that he was already infected and his decision would lead directly to the spread of the virus after he crashes his car into a gas station in Arlette, Texas while distracted by a grinning Satan who appears in his rear-view mirror.  Anyone who has driven long distances by night on a head full of No-Doz and no sleep for two days or more can identify with that situation.

Remember Campion’s decision when you hear about the first player to break quarantine just to see a loved one, let alone if a life-or-death situation emerges for one or more of them. This is also a good example of how people react to an outbreak in a controlled environment. Unpredictably at best, even when there’s a plan and training in place.

Stripes, Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, etc. – “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” – Young Men vs. Authority

In every example I can think of, young men rebel against authority. It’s just something about the nature of man at that stage of life, you don’t like being told what to do or thinking that someone might know better. You don’t like rules and restrictions.

For every example you want to come up with for how the discipline of an athlete and being used to structure and authority NBA players already are I can counter with a strip club or gambling the night before a playoff game story, so lets just skip that. Joel Embiid himself addressed this concern when he said “I don’t ever do anything. I only play video games. I’m always home. I don’t do anything. But then again, I don’t trust those other guys to do the same.”

After saying he still did not feel safe, Embiid would continue “I got to do my job. There’s some guys [who] like to go out, there’s some guys [who] like to do stuff, there’s some guys that like adventure. So that’s the way I’m thinking. I know myself, I know I’m not going to put everybody else at risk. But the question is, ‘Is everybody else going to do the same?’ And I surely — just being around this business — I surely don’t think so.”

So Joel Embiid doesn’t feel safe and doesn’t trust the other guys in the league to do the right thing and not sneak out to party. And who can blame him? Just look at what pop culture tells young men to do in this situation.

Rebel …

Sneak out …

Even when there’s absolutely no point, make a…

Why are we assuming that NBA players are going to be any different in this situation? They’re only human, they’re young men and more than a few of them have proven a bit less than responsible about how they handle their affairs with Instagram models and the like. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to Orlando, or Florida in general, but the lines for those positions are going to be long and… robust. The temptation is going to be strong for players to break out.

Enemy of the State, The Truman Show, Prison Break, Escape Plan – The Breakdown of Security and Surveillance

The NBA has put some rigorous security measure in place, hiring private security and sending teams of league security and league officials to Orlando in an effort to put as many people from as many disparate organizations as possible into this scenario to ensure the math for success is as challenging as possible. None of it will matter. If someone decides they want out they’re going to get out.

Lets start with the idea of consequences. If a player gets caught trying to leave campus what exactly is Paul Blartt supposed to do? The phrase “No, I want some Wendy’s” is going to come up at 2 A.M. at some point – with the food that the league is serving who could blame anyone? – and I’m not sure what the security detail will do in this situation. Potential fallout for the player when they get back depends entirely on security saying something, which is why we have to remember that players are guys with deep pockets who can grease the wheels of any situation. The status and just intimidation of being in the presence of a global celebrity can have strange effects on people’s decision making as well.

In addition to potential easy payoffs to get people into or out of the bubble, there are simple notions about electronic security and surveillance to keep in mind. Even the best security can’t watch everyone at once, nor can it anticipate every situation. NBA players also like expensive toys, and there are plenty of those available online to help defeat security.

The entire idea also just sounds like the kind of fun you would get into if you were in this situation with a bunch of friends, colleagues or, uh, associates…

After all, do we know exactly what all of J.R.’s tattoos really mean?

I’ll admit it, I was considering “5 Reasons Why J.R. Smith Will Definitely Be the One to Break Quarantine” as an alternate headline. He’s got to be the odds-on favorite, right?

There’s perhaps no better bubble escape than in The Truman Show, where we see the titular Truman finally break free of a world that has been entirely dedicated to keeping him in an artificially created life to be broadcast as a reality T.V. show. Literally thousands of cameras and people,  along with millions of viewers, dedicated completely to keeping him in check. Truman fools them all with the ol’ mannequin under your covers and recorded snoring move.


The Hunger Games, The Running Man, Gladiator, Spartacus, etc – Forced Combatants Rise Up

It’s no secret that a significant portion of the NBA’s player pool isn’t happy with the decision to play these games. As Joel Embiid pointed out, he and many players are showing up to do their jobs reluctantly, still convinced that it is not a safe situation. Even before the bubble became a reality players were talking about labor actions such as sitting out to draw attention to the national movement for equality and change. Players still could conceivably show up for games, dress, take the court, and just not play as part of an organized statement.

If the situation worsens, say with a breach of protocol being swept under the rug or the league continuing to push forward under increasingly dangerous circumstances the player’s ability to take direct action to change or end the situation will be obvious and their actions likely will be swift. It only takes the removal of a few key players before the NBA’s Jenga tower topples under its own weight.

As countless movies have shown us, people being forced to do something they don’t want to, something potentially dangerous or life threatening, for the entertainment of others are going to find a way to break the system.

Sure, maybe no one is going to knock Adam Silver out with a thrown basketball or anything similar, but it’s going to be very easy to take a seat, walk out a door, or just get close enough to someone else to incur a violation.

Although if someone wants to give Jimmy Dolan the Running Man comeuppance, I wouldn’t vote against it.


World War Z, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Literally Every Zombie Movie Ever – Infected Get In and People Hide Things

There’s probably no better pop culture example of bubbles not being a viable solution than every zombie story ever produced. Every single one of them includes a bubble scenario of some sort. A group of survivors has banded together and secured a lean-to, a prison, a farm, a mansion, even entire towns. Things go well for a time, but there are infected just outside the walls, eventually someone is going to make a mistake and something is going to get in.

No matter how high or strong you build them, no matter how many redundant protocols you put in…

Even if the walls hold and the infected aren’t let into the bubble in the form of Tinder dates, someone is going to sneak out and get bit, and that someone is going to try to hide it. As if they’re the one person immune to becoming a zombie they won’t tell anyone until it’s too late. You know how this one goes, one minute you’re having a quiet lunch with Rondae-Hollis Jefferson and notice he seems a bit sweaty, the next minute he’s gnawing on your clavicle.

If pop culture has anything to tell us about this situation it’s that the NBA bubble is a doomed experiment. It should at least be entertaining to watch them try. Hopefully no one gets too sick, hopefully no one does anything too dumb, hopefully no one gets eaten by a zombie.

Your move, J.R.

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