An NBA spokesperson announced Saturday that the league is in talks with Walt Disney World Resort to finish out the 2019-20 season in its facilities in Orlando, Fla. This shift would be the first time in NBA history that a significant portion of the season would be played exclusively in one location, as opposed to in arenas across the country. The announcement comes after the league suspended its season abruptly following Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19 on March 11. No matter how the league chooses to finish the season, it will be unprecedented. Whichever team finishes as the winner, however, should not be considered any less legitimate as a champion.
This NBA season will be different for countless reasons: the fanless playoffs, midseason hiatus and even the potential for a new playoff format. This uncertainty has led many to propose that the league forgo the playoffs in hopes of a more normal season in 2021. Proponents of cancellation include Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who told USA Today he thinks the league should scrap the season because “Any team that wins this year, there’s an asterisk. They’re not going to get the respect.” O’Neal and all those people who believe the season is tarnished are correct to question whether the results of this season would have been different under normal circumstances.
The entire league has gotten months of rest and will not be entering the playoffs just after completing an infamously grueling 82-game regular season. Older players, such as future Hall of Famer LeBron James, who was leading the Los Angeles Lakers on what appeared to be a title run, now are going to enter the playoffs on legs that have not played a regulation game of basketball in months. While this time off may sound beneficial, James said on the Road Trippin’ podcast that this rest has actually not helped his body. Regardless of the effects, the fact remains that James and other players will be playing at a different level than normal.
Injured players have had the opportunity to rest and to potentially play in the playoffs even though they typically would not have had the opportunity. Inversely, new injuries may occur in the interim. Last week, the Utah Jazz announced that forward Bojan Bogdanovic underwent surgery on his right wrist, ending his season. Averaging 20.2 points per game this season, Bogdanovic’s absence will significantly hamper the Jazz’s playoff hopes.
Additionally, in a new playoff format, home-court advantage will no longer be a factor. The fact that higher-seeded teams will not get more games in front of their hometown fans could have a huge impact on the playoffs. A 2019 study by Samford University found that over the past 10 years, the NBA team with home-court advantage has won 74% of the time. The statistic may be skewed by the fact that, in the playoffs, teams have earned home-court advantage by performing well during the regular season. The study also found, however, that in game seven, in which the teams have proven themselves evenly matched, the home team still wins 75% of the time.
Despite how unprecedented this year is, to pick and choose which titles are legitimate and which titles are not would be disingenuous. Up until 2003, the first round of the NBA playoffs was only a five-game series. However, as of 2018, the team that lost game five when the series was tied 2-2 ended up winning the series approximately 17.2% of the time. This statistic does not represent a huge number of NBA championships that could have gone differently, but it does mean numerous playoff series before 2003 could have had different results. Are we going to put an asterisk next to all those titles?
Furthermore, referees have admittedly rigged playoff series before. Notably, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy admitted that game six of the Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers was fixed in the Lakers’ favor. In that game, the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter while the Kings shot just nine. The Lakers won by two points. Yet few, if any, NBA fans discredit the Lakers’ 2002 championship. Similarly, no one would suggest that the Miami Heat’s 2012 championship has an asterisk despite the fact that the season was a mere 66 games — a similar and likely shorter regular season than teams will play this year.
There is a long list of potentially flawed champions, which is why attempting to determine who the true champions are is nonsensical. If you win the title, barring some patently obvious cheating or other mistakes, your championship is just as valid as everyone else’s.
Austin Barish is a rising sophomore in the College. All About Buckets appears online every month.