Basketball is here!...Sort of. Nonetheless, the Denver Nuggets will play against another team in the National Basketball Association tonight: the Washington Wizards. It marks the beginning of the end to a season that is unlike any other in the NBA’s history. It provides a reprieve from the chaos that is a world battling a pandemic while simultaneously reminds us of the issues we face like taking safety precautions for the greater good and battling systemic racism in America. Indeed, nothing about the end to this season is normal and it will be noticeably different on many levels. One of those levels includes crowning a champion where no matter what, the team who wins it all will always be remembered as winning a ring in incredibly unusual circumstances.
The thought that some have relayed is that any title won in the Disney World bubble will carry with it an asterisk, and to their point that is almost certain to be true. There has to be a note because again, the circumstances of this champion are so unusual. However, perhaps where the idea of applying an asterisk to the title winner this season falls short is the implication, or stigma, that an asterisk means negative connotation. On this point I think the idea of an asterisk misses the mark. In fact, I’d argue that this particular asterisk is a badge of honor.
The most common example I can think of when people talk about asterisks in sports is Barry Bonds’ career homerun record. In this case some would apply the asterisk because Bonds was discovered to be using steroids for large parts of his career and was indicted by a grand jury for lying while under oath about whether he knowingly took steroids. While the debate can rage on as whether Bonds’ records are tainted, the implication that an asterisk is a negative association was set. This time it’s different.
With Bonds the thought process is that he was given an unfair advantage through performance enhancing drugs but the bubble can be argued as a disadvantage. Even if that’s not the case, the playing field is still 100% leveled. Every single team in Orlando is going through the same thing. Now sure, the Nuggets are in a nicer hotel than the Wizards, but color me skeptical that coach Michael Malone will use that as one of the reasons for why the Nuggets either perform or fail to perform. No, by and large all teams are battling the same thing here.
Some teams have had a harder time getting all their players into the bubble than others, this is true. The Nuggets, who as far as we know still do not have a full roster in Orlando, appear to be one of them. Two of their starters did not make the trip initially along with two, possibly three, other rotation players. While Nikola Jokic is now practicing with the team he missed valuable time at the beginning of camp. Meanwhile Gary Harris and Torrey Craig only managed to get into the bubble this week and still need to clear their quarantine before they can join the team. Denver is certainly not getting any advantages in this bubble.
There are certain things that would tilt that perception in a different direction. A star player on one of the top seeds becoming infected with COVID-19 and thus being unable to participate in the playoffs would certainly skew some’s view if a middle seed like the Nuggets were to emerge victorious from the Magical Kingdom. Consider though that, at least up to this point, we have no evidence to believe that will happen. As a definite skeptic of the whole bubble concept, I have to admit that it appears that the plan is working. To date there have been no reports of a positive COVID-19 test within in the bubble.
Which really leaves only the fact that these games are being played at a neutral site as any sort of way the Nuggets could somehow gain an unnatural advantage during this postseason. Should the Nuggets advance past the first round they will in all likelihood be playing a playoff series at a neutral site that they would otherwise have to win at least one game on the road in order to advance. Yet, they are given the same disadvantage in the first round so in some ways it feels a bit balanced out. Furthermore, as the past has shown us, homecourt advantage has never been something that has made much of a difference to the Nuggets. Yes, they benefited from a home game seven against the San Antonio Spurs last year, but also lost a game seven at home against the Portland Trail Blazers. Additionally, if you prescribe to the Philadelphia shock jock way of thinking, the Nuggets being removed from the confines of the Pepsi Center and it’s respective altitude can only serve to weaken their chances.
So all this to say will there be an asterisk applied to the Nuggets if they are this year’s champions? In all likelihood, but in this case it only serves as evidence to the trials and tribulations they have to overcome. An asterisk for this season is a testament that this championship was harder to win than any other and that this team had to overcome incredible circumstances in unprecedented times to do it. I’ll take the asterisk all day.