With the Lakers and Heat appearing to be favorites for the finals, some NBA fans are already gearing up to delegitimize this year's champion.
At the time of writing this, the NBA playoffs are currently in the Conference Finals stage. The Miami Heat are up 3-1 on the Boston Celtics, meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have an identical lead against the Denver Nuggets. Barring any miraculous comebacks, the Heat and Lakers should end up in the NBA Finals, where they would play for the highly-coveted Larry O'Brien trophy.
Considering how both of these teams performed throughout the season, this would be an incredibly entertaining matchup. Throughout the playoffs, the Heat have been one of the most fun teams to watch as Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro have ascended to a whole new level. They're well-balanced on both sides of the floor and have the belief that they can beat any given team on any given night. As for the Lakers, well, what else would you expect from a team with Anthony Davis and LeBron James. They have been dominant all season long and have been favorites to win the Championship since Day 1. Even if neither of these teams ends up in the Finals, we would still be getting a treat with the Nuggets and Celtics -- although deep down we really want the Lakers and Heat.
Despite how hard these teams have worked, there are some fans out there who believe this year's champion will deserve an asterisk next to their name. In fact, it's been a massive debate on social media and TV as of late. Many think that the bubble format has turned every NBA game into an exhibition match that shouldn't be considered as legitimate. The main argument here is that fans offer teams home-court advantage and without that, you can't have a real matchup. Others believe the bubble format was an unfair leg up certain teams over others since not every squad got to practice as heavily leading into their trip to Florida. With all that being said, the argument has been made that whoever wins this year will be an illegitimate champion whose title shouldn't count like previous ones.
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Simply put, thinking this way is a huge slap in the face to every player, coach, staff member, and executive who has worked 24/7 to get the NBA bubble up and running. With the Coronavirus ravaging the world, it's clear that 2020 is not your average year. The whole world has had to adapt to this new reality, and the NBA is no exception. The NBA didn't change its regular season and playoff formats because they wanted to get cute, but because they needed to, and fans need to come to terms with that. Not to mention, the aforementioned arguments can be easily debunked once you consider how the NBA bubble is perhaps the best thing the league has ever done for playoff parity.
When it comes to the issue of crowd noise and a home-court advantage, the bubble does indeed make this factor obsolete. This actually helps put both teams on an even playing field in terms of the energy in the building. Now, neither team can use the crowd as an excuse when they lose, and they certainly can't use it as a crutch when they win. Essentially, the bubble is set up in a way that makes sure the better team comes out victorious, as opposed to allowing the loudest crowds to dictate the momentum. Instead of relying on a raucous crowd to throw a shooter off of his game, now, players are forced to take full accountability for their performance.
As for the topic of practices leading up to the start of the bubble, it's true that certain teams didn't get as much time together as others. This is due to the fact that some cities had harsher social distancing restrictions, which left some teams behind for a few weeks. Once the teams got into the bubble, however, they were on completely even playing fields. Some franchises don't have as much money as others, which means their facilities are weaker. In the bubble, this was simply not a factor as every team was given access to the same courts, same gyms, and same cafeterias. For better or for worse, every single team got treated the same way.
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Fans have also tried to point at teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks being eliminated as some sort of "gotcha" that the bubble is an illegitimate format. For them, these two teams were title favorites and their lack of success in the postseason is supposed to be an indication that whoever wins this year is undeserving. These arguments can immediately be brushed off once you realize that there are upsets in every single postseason. Just because you're the favorite, it doesn't mean you're guaranteed a title. This is true with or without the bubble. It's also entirely possible to say that the Bucks are a team built for the regular season and that they were bound to fail in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Clippers were an overrated roster with deep-seated chemistry issues. While it's convenient to blame the bubble on these early eliminations, it would certainly be a mistake to do so.
In order to win the championship this year, teams have had to overcome some massive mental and physical hurdles. The NBA hiatus, followed by the bubble format, and even the Black Lives Matter protests have all been a source of stress on these players. Whoever wins this NBA title will have gone through hell and back, unlike any other championship team in NBA history. For these reasons alone, it's clear that an asterisk isn't necessary. In fact, the winner should be lauded as one of the best teams of all-time. It would only be fitting when you consider the year we've had.