2020, The Most Unthinkable Year In Sports

By Saransh Sharma, Pranav Thiriveedhi, Anish Dhondi, Rohan Krishnan, & Nikhil Pradeep

2020, who saw this coming? A worldwide pandemic, systemic racism across the world, an election that tore people apart from each other, horrifying tragedies, yet through all the challenges we faced, all the sacrifices every one of us made, we, whether we know it or not, prevailed. We grew braver, grew an appreciation and gratitude for the people we had, the objects we possessed, the values we hold. One of the biggest things that kept us going all year was sports. Whether it was an ugly Sunday Night Football game between the Eagles and Cowboys, an NBA Bubble playoff game, whatever the spectacle may have been, sports brought people together, and at times, made us escape the reality we were facing in our world. We saw the power athletes had not just through playing their sports, but with their voices, with their actions, with their perseverance, that it inspired us to do the same, and it lifted us during these difficult times. Here are some of the monumental moments that we saw in 2020:

The Day Sports Came to a Halt by Saransh Sharma

On August 26th, 2020, we saw the Milwaukee Bucks boycott their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man who was shot 7 times in the back and killed while unarmed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just 30 miles away from Milwaukee. The fallout led to the cancellation of two other NBA playoff games that day. The rest of the MLB games on that night were postponed, and tennis star Naomi Osaka announced that she would not play in her Western & Southern Open Semifinals match, set for August 27th, the next day. On the 27th, many NFL teams had canceled their practices in tribute to Blake, and all seven major league sports in the United States went to a halt. We also saw the NBA nearly boycott the remainder of the season. Players such as LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard favored the motion to boycott unless a plan to keep the conversations to help end racial injustice. A plan was put in place by the NBA of initiatives to support throughout the NBA bubble, and thanks to the help of Former President Barack Obama, the NBA was able to get back and continue the season.

These actions led to many players having their forms of silent protest before their games or matches, such as taking a knee during the National Anthem, wearing a mask or shirt with the names of victims killed by police due to racial injustice across the country. Overall, it brought more awareness to the injustices going around our country into the sports world, as fans learned of the importance to push for changes for this country. Had it not been for the events that transpired on August 26th, which led to a full day without any sports nationwide on the 27th, we as a country would be in a much different position.

NBA Season Dropped for the Second Time in the Last Ten Years by Pranav Thiriveedhi

In 2011, the NBA season under commissioner David Stern saw a league-wide lockout, allowing for the absence of professional basketball across the country. Many people thought that the issues present under David Stern would not be a problem under incumbent commissioner Adam Silver, but on March 11th, 2020, the NBA season was suspended. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz All-Star Center and two-time Defensive Players of the Year tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the postponement of their game against the OKC Thunder. Gobert’s positive test led to the indefinite suspension of the 2019-2020 NBA season. Word of this terrible news spread like fire across the United States, even while NBA games were being played that day. Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, was devastated to hear about the season suspension moments after coming out with a win over the Denver Nuggets. With so much emotion and tragedy going across the NBA world, and even after the news of Kobe Bryant’s death, the suspended season was the worst thing for many to hear. 

But we are not quitters. The coronavirus pandemic has affected every single person not only around the country but around the world, making us rethink and reinvent our old ways. After the NBA’s indefinite hiatus, and after a struggle to make it work, on June 4th, the NBA board of governors approved for the resume of the season in a competitive bubble format on July 30th, 2020. And you guys know how the rest went. The Orlando bubble proved to be very successful, all the way from the last eight regular-season games to the NBA finals, which helped show that the 2019-2020 NBA season was the most historic and craziest professional basketball season ever. 

The ‘Flex My House’ NFL Draft by Rohan Krishnan

The National Football League was preparing to have their annual draft at Las Vegas this year, and the plans were so extravagant that it included a stage on the water at Bellagio Fountains. Players would be taken by boat to the main stage to be drafted. This spectacle would have made for one of the most memorable drafts of recent memory. Due to the pandemic, however, it became a TV-only event. Roger Goodell, the league commissioner, started the Draft from his basement and behind him was a huge video screen, showing the fans for each team and reactions from players and their families. It was a weird experience for prospects and fans as they did not get to walk up to a stage and get the customary hug from Goodell. Nothing is the same without a huge crowd to cheer or boo for their team’s selection. However, the first night had stellar ratings, drawing a record 15.6 million viewers.

The NFL did a fantastic job of not having any technical issues and proved that in the face of a crisis, a Draft can be done from home. It was also fun to see the memes pop up on social media, giving plenty of memorable moments. Roger Goodell looked like he was about to fall asleep on Day 2 of the Draft, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury did the Draft from his $4.45 million mansion, as he dunked on everyone else’s draft setup, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was chilling on his yacht. Watching the event was a welcome distraction for all fans across the country since it was one of the very few live sporting events since the pandemic started in mid-March. It was also special to watch the draft prospects hanging out at home with their loved ones and showing their reactions to the world as they start a new chapter in their lives. 

The Struggle of the Bubble by Anish Dhondi

After the NBA shut down in March, the NBA planned its way back to a restart in July. The process was strange for both players and fans. The world had to go months without sports, one of the largest forms of entertainment. When the NBA restarted again, players were in an unorthodox situation. They were restricted to their hotel ‘bubble’ in Orlando, where after they played games, they could see their opponents walking around in the same bubble, which gave a unique experience. The style of the game also changed with no fans, the games for the players were very quiet. Watching on TV, we did not notice as much as they add in fan audio, but the players could hear every little thing that they all were saying. This led to players on the bench getting more technical would than usual, as any chatter on the bench could be heard very clearly by the referees. At the end of the NBA Playoffs and Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers were the NBA Champions. Strangely, people will find any reason to discredit a LeBron James ring, calling it a ‘Mickey Mouse Ring.’ In reality, winning the championship was more difficult than fans realize. Portland Trail Blazers star, Damian Lillard, came out and said that playing in the bubble was a lot harder competition-wise. Traditionally, the season and playoffs require a lot of traveling to satisfy homecourt advantages along with other distractions, Dame said that in the ‘bubble life’ was just eat, sleep, and ball. NBA players were also fully rested as they did not have to deal with any travel or jet lag and could recover their bodies for the next game much faster than usual. Overall, the bubble was a huge success, with no positive cases that required a second shutdown. Credit to Adam Silver, one of the best, if not the best commissioner in sports, for creating the safest environment possible for players and teams. After this strange bubble experience, it was not over for 2020. 

The 2020-21 NBA season had to begin to avoid future seasons from being delayed. Teams that played in the bubble received the shortest offseason (72 days for the defending champion Lakers) of all-time, while players outside of the bubble received the longest. The shortened offseason has resulted in players taking additional rest during the regular season to avoid injuries, like Westbrook, Kyrie, Kawhi, and Kevin Durant periodically sitting out games. No fans, along with the difference in rest have made a big difference, as teams that received the most rest are seemingly starting the season on fire. The Magic and the Cavs are surprise teams in the East who were well-rested and started the season with wins that no one expected. In the bubble, we saw a whole different type of play from some players who went off like TJ Warren, Devin Booker, and Damian Lillard with no fans to cheer or boo at them. As many described, it felt like playing at an empty practice gym. 

As the vaccine is slowly getting pushed out, I truly hope that the NBA can start incorporating fans into the games safely because, without fans, the game does not feel as exciting to watch or play.

A New Injury Designation in the NFL by Nikhil Pradeep

Most avid viewers of the NFL know that injuries are simply part of the game, and no matter how far medical and biophysical science goes to improve safety equipment, that fact is not going to change. The sheer amount of force, power, and most importantly, the heart that NFL players play with is just too much for injuries not to be an integral part of the league. In 2020 however, a new type of injury designation showed up in the game-day rosters and fantasy team news articles for those associated with the NFL: the COVID-19 identifier. In these unprecedented times, there were insane circumstances that left NFL general managers scratching their heads and fantasy football players livid. The prime example that inevitably will go down in history is the Denver Broncos having no available QBs to play Week 12 against the New Orleans Saints, a situation that some believe to be poorly handled by the league office and commissioner. There was no exception granted to the Broncos after having pleaded their case for excruciating circumstances, with the game played with Kendall Hilton, a practice squad wide receiver, at quarterback. The result of the game needs no explanation, but the event itself shows the frailty of the NFL’s plan to get their league running again during the time of this virus. Couple this with the league’s handling of the Ravens’ multiple weeks long COVID-19 spread, which resulted in the shifting of games throughout the weekend schedule, and you start to see how bad of a job the league did in handling this year’s rollout of the NFL season. Compare this to the NBA bubble that was deemed a complete success by many within the media, and you begin to wonder how Roger Goddell and his team thought their plan would suffice in the first place.

But we are talking about 2020, and anything that could have happened did happen this year. All things considered, it might have been necessary to play this year and steamroll through multiple COVID-19 cases to even have a league to play in for years in the future. The NFL is by no means a graceful sport, and maybe the methods the league office takes to run it are the same way. All in all, there were not an absurd amount of cases, especially not an amount that endangered a significant portion of people’s lives, and it resulted in a rather entertaining season in a rather dreadful year. On the positive side of things, there were not games completely canceled, all 256 games were fully played. That being said, there are ways to improve the handling of an unforeseen event like this in the future. The NFL will not be praised for their forward-thinking in handling this virus, but at the end of the day, the league, players, and personnel will all benefit.

How the 2019 NBA Free Agency Will Change the NBA For Years to Come

The 2019 NBA Free Agency will begin tonight at 6pm EST, and already there is plenty of shakeup in the league. Kyrie Irving has left the Boston Celtics to go to Brooklyn on a 4-year, $141M max contract, and Kemba Walker has immediately replaced him in Boston, also signing a max contract. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler will be going to Miami in a sign-and-trade, and Kevin Durant joins Kyrie by going to Brooklyn. Despite that, there are plenty more free agents whose status is up in the air, and here is what I believe will happen to them, and the rest of the NBA:

D’Angelo Russell Prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves

This one is a bit more complicated because the Timberwolves have to trade away Andrew Wiggins to free up the cap, but it makes a lot of sense. Karl Anthony-Towns has talked for months now about the possibility of getting a big name free-agent to Minnesota, and he has often thrown out D’Angelo Russell as the guy he wants. The problem with this is that you have to trade Wiggins, but in order to get back players that have the same worth as Wiggins AND still sign D-Lo, you probably need to find a third team interested. It may take a bit longer than expected and could force Russell to look towards teams like the LA Lakers and Phoenix Suns, who already have the cap and don’t need to make big roster moves. As of right now though, Minnesota seems very confident that Wiggins is drawing interest from teams, and that they can get a deal done soon. Also, although the Warriors want to try to force Brooklyn into a sign-and-trade KD for D-Lo trade, that is not happening. Sorry Warriors, but the dynasty is over.

Kawhi Leonard Prediction: LA

As you can see here, I did not specify which Los Angeles team, but I am confident that it is between one of the two LA teams. The only problem that the Clippers have in this case is the fact that KD and Jimmy Butler are likely to snub the Clippers for other teams, and Kawhi wanted to go to the Clippers along with another superstar. That being said, if guys like Tobias Harris or Khris Middleton show up and want to play for the Clippers, than odds are Kawhi would too. On the other hand, it would only seem fitting that Kawhi went to play with LeBron and the Lakers after all the drama from last offseason, where he said he would only play for the Lakers, and that he would consider sitting the season with any other team. Obviously that was not the case and Kawhi went on to win the championship with Toronto, but if you made all that drama to go to be a Lakers, why not just be a Laker?

Klay Thompson Prediction: Stay with Warriors

This is a no-brainer. There is seriously no reason for Klay to leave, and for the Warriors not to offer Klay the 5-year, $190M max contract. Klay is one of the best shooters of all-time, one of the best 3-and-D players ever, and simply a Warrior-for-life. Thompson has been there in the clutch for Golden State so much, especially for Stephen Curry, who is 0-8 on game-winning shots in the playoffs, but Klay continues to catch fire in the clutch. This should have been the first major free agency deal that was made.

Danny Green Prediction: LA Lakers on a Pay Cut

Danny Green is by no means a superstar player in any stretch of the imagination, but he may be one of the greatest role players of all-time. He’s been to 3 NBA Finals, won 2 of the 3, and has been the best shooter on both of those teams (San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors). He is also a guy that wants to win and will do whatever it takes. If that means taking a pay cut and potentially joining Kawhi Leonard, Green will do it and take the mid-level exception contract (a $4.8 million contract per year, which means that he is the one legal, non-minimum veteran contract that the Lakers can use before they go over the salary cap). Even if Kawhi doesn’t go to LA, LeBron will convince him to come join the new superteam.

How Does the NBA Change Now?

The NBA will take a swing in which the East and West will be much more balanced and much more competitive, with it being as wide-open as it has ever been in recent memory. Teams like Miami and Boston have remade themselves into contenders, Milwaukee stays as-is, Toronto could fall massively, Brooklyn is the best team in New York for good, and Philadelphia still stays relevant. As for the Western Conference, Golden State has clearly fallen with the loss of KD and the injury to Klay Thompson, but with LeBron already beginning to create himself the team he wants, it will all depend on Kawhi as to whether or not he takes over the Western Conference for years to come. Not saying that teams like Denver, Portland, and OKC cannot contend, but LeBron always finds a way to get by those teams in the playoffs, like he did in the Eastern Conference. The NBA season will be as wide-open as ever.

What About the Rookies?

Guys like Zion and RJ probably won’t even be talked about anymore with all these familiar faces in new places, as the league is in its prime in terms of the number of contending teams, and guys like Zion and RJ are not in that position. The only rookie-led team that will make a splash is Atlanta, and even that may take a few years to do.