Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Review: Bubbleball (2021)

By Ben Golliver

"What was it like?"

That's one of the basic questions that can be answered by journalism. Reporters can often take readers and viewers to places that usually they would never get to experience, and describe the feelings they had along the way.

Realistically, that's the attraction to Ben Golliver's book, "Bubbleball."

The Washington Post reporter was assigned to cover the NBA's resumption of play, straight through to the playoffs, in 2020. You might remember - no, you do remember - how the pandemic forced the league to come up with a way of finishing the regular season, holding the playoffs, and declaring a champion. 

To do that, the principals had to go to Orlando to spend as many as three months in a bubble. The league went to amazing lengths to make sure that everyone inside of that bubble was safe. Happily, there weren't many slip-ups.

Selected members of the media also were invited to come in to the bubble to cover the games and the news. Golliver, the Post's top NBA reporter, was one of them. Since the price tag was very high and few media outlets were willing to pay hundreds of dollars per day for the right to have access. Golliver didn't have a great deal of company. He lived a rather solitary existence for about three months, from the finish of the regular season through the last game of the playoffs. There's no sign that he ever took a day off along the way, since there wasn't much else to do besides take a walk around the grounds and check his email. Let's hope he ran up a lot of "comp time" for use down the road.

The best part of the book centers on the "what was it like? question, and the hoops he had to jump through (sorry) to do his job. It was all so odd and unique, that it was definitely a good idea to chronicle it in book form. 

The games did go on, as we know now, and they were remarkably smooth. The biggest interruptions, if that's the correct word, came from outside issues as players reacted to stories concerning social justice from outside of the bubble. Otherwise, it seemed easy to focus on the games. Golliver didn't miss a contest after the first round of the playoffs (before that, he couldn't be everywhere). The story lines slowly developed, as they always do in the postseason. The difference was that reporters could see it all from one place, without traveling or television. It was, of course, a unique time.

As for the games, you know how things turned out if you were paying attention. Golliver's focus shifts a bit as the playoffs build toward a climax in the Finals. It's a little difficult for a writer to build suspense in games that were played a year ago. Still, Golliver obviously knows his stuff, and he has some insights for those of us who weren't paying close attention to the league as a whole. 

With luck, we'll never have to go through anything like this again. Put this in the time capsule, then. "Bubbleball" will stand up well as a first-person account of the experience.

Four stars

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