On March 11th, an NBA doctor ran onto the Chesapeake Energy Arena court in Oklahoma City a few minutes before Jazz v. Thunder was set to tip-off. The two teams’ players went back into the locker rooms; arena staff moved to start disinfecting the first two rows of seats; and referees, coaches, and announcers circled up. In a deep, official voice, the announcer told the fans to exit the arena and promised, “You are all safe… We are all safe.” With that, the crowd emptied out; no more basketball.
Now, in the last hours of July, we’re closing the four-month window without televised professional basketball in the U.S. I’m writing this before the NBA comes back full steam. However, there have been a few days of scrimmages this week in Orlando’s Disney-owned sports complex, isolated from the rest of Florida in a “bubble.” The start of a 22-game WNBA season started this past weekend in a parallel bubble – the #wubble – located elsewhere in Florida. As I watched the first day of NBA scrimmages, I took notes: “Everyone on my screen—Magic 80 Clippers 87—has tested negative for COVID-19. They are all touching each other, their own noses, the shared object-ball. Remember touching? They can see each other’s faces. Casual hand on the chest of a competitor.” As of this moment, it looks like the NBA is doing well: no COVID in the bubble. Three hundred forty-six tests came back negative in the last batch. (“It’s almost like quarantining people and making everybody wear masks… works,” tweeted @RocketIntellect.)
I hope they continue to keep everyone safe; that the NBA isn’t challenged by positive tests in the way that the MLB already has been (and on day one, failed—seems to be crumbling—perhaps the only way to proceed apace is to fail). The logistics of maintaining a true bubble are wild, and Vegas is accepting prop bets about whether or not the NBA will even finish this season. The NBA’s relationship with valuing (beyond, but including, questions of payment) Black labor is troubled; this country has an irreparable and foundational relationship with Black suffering, with Black death, and with monetizing both. It will never be enough to be a thoughtful and critical consumer of media that builds upon and deepens this tradition while claiming to be an exception to it.
I want to spend more time feeling my way through this all: as a basketball fan, a poet, a human terrified and full of grief, horrified already at my going along with out-in-the-open inequalities, injustices, harms done and in-progress that are baked into professional and amateur athletics’ salable product, profits, and propaganda. In this feeling-through, there exists a flash—echoing the one I feel when I see a Coke ad and must immediately find a cold can of Coca Cola—when a clip of LeBronJames or DianaTaurasi or MayaMoore absolutely dominating flashes across my twitter feed. And there it is, in my body, moving me toward the screen again.
On Instant Replay and Inviting 346 Athletes to Orlando, Florida to Play Professional Basketball at the Walt Disney World Complex Beginning in July 2020
1 I am at the edge of a field, can’t make it out— Small and blurred, two athletes watch each other closely Is instant replay not, in principle or practice, a Dutch painting? Its absorptions and theatricalities— each player’s body a rhetorical presence, persuasion itself We say we’re after truth, but how do we get there In this painting, a child, immersed in a task, one single feather suspended forever in the air What rules is that feather violating; the child; how can we determine from this stilled image who to punish how much I look again, again, again The looking many times is part of it Two voices, as if from nowhere, narrate. Tell me what I see I either agree or I They either agree or they 2 The athletes will be the spectators in Orlando, July 2020 4,049 COVID diagnoses a day in Florida as of Jun 20, 2020, now Jul 5 we have seen 9,585 in a day, 11,458 in a day, 15,300 on Jul 12, The first NBA COVID death still only a possibility 3 I move toward the field, the players The athlete-observers use their hands to determine fact At best a village and its legislation is mutually-invested, interdependent 346 players fierce, loving, loved One athlete moving around the three-dimensional energetic field of two other athletes, their bodies frozen in space for the time being Earlier memorable “stop-action” photography showing a bullet passing through a playing card four legs of a horse lifted off the ground 4 The NBA in Orlando, a “bubble,” 34 at a time set against each other. There will be film crews, narrative and fiscal potentials. The first major media event in quarantine, Tiger King. Second, The Last Dance, 20 hours of curated footage from the archives. Who will own the film rights to Orlando? A basketball game is a joint energy dispersal, agreed upon. Group chain reaction. Basketball games are a series of speedings up and slowings down. Rapid changes in velocity, controlled and otherwise. A referee, a camera, at-home screen-mediated we: get only the visual outcomes. 5 What happens to a spectator’s relationship to sport when faced with an athlete’s exposure to, suffering from, death, this virus, a spectator’s relationship to basketball in the face of an NBA player dying in “the bubble” Players sign waivers but I have not agreed to the death of any man Already it is true that the wealthy are hell-bound I am adjacent to the player’s future death I am paying for potential, possible, probable, death on or adjacent to the screen 6 Can we promise that the NBA will not survive the death of an NBA player in or adjacent to the Orlando bubble 7 And here I know I will watch every moment of the restarted NBA season if and when it happens. What of my integrity, ethics, self, will I lose, even now seeing an inevitability, what do I lose now, in this moment. I am again in misalignment, actions and values. My finger pointed firmly in all directions, a we. And echoing in my head, a voice on loop: I’m just here so I don’t get fined. I’m just here so I don’t get fined. I’m just here so I don’t get fined. I’m just here. 8 I’m just here so I don’t __________ 9 Sound moving in bodies of athletes The sound in an arena Getting your job done in a sonic field designed for onslaught / to overstimulate “assisted resonance” “crowd enhancement” How many nights I fell asleep across the street from a desert bar and its endless looped remix of love in a hopeless place Grown men at work pushing their bodies already to extremes. I yell at the games. 10 I yell at the games I stand for the anthem, 2017, afraid of Arizona I hate who I am told to hate I participate in heuristics of likeability I limited imagination I death I narcissism I ego I strive I watch ads I Amazon Netflix Showtime Add-On NBA League Pass I dollar I delete my RT I delete all my tweets I injust enjoy ingest unjust enjoy injure I choose self I choose pleasure I root I superstition I enjoy I enjoy I sort the two enjoyments into “complicatedly” and “uncomplicatedly” I good intention I claim critique I dream not enough I send metta I buy an arena hot dog I enjoy it I try I try to get an athlete’s attention I try to get her to look at me my sign my body I am there to receive the thing I want for me I am there acquisitive I am there my own pleasure I am the site of the violent encounter I am the violent encounter which I enjoy