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NBA Reporter Marc J. Spears Reflects On Life Inside The NBA Bubble

ESPN The Undefeated's hoops guru shares his experience as one of a select group of journalists covering history up close.

The unprecedented NBA Bubble Finals is likely coming to an end tonight with the Lakers up 3-1 and almost certain to close out the hobbled Heat. LeBron’s 4th title would put a bow on a season that not only tested the resolve, mental and physical fortitude of NBA players, staff and the media covering history in motion but also shed light on the systemic oppression and racial injustice that challenge Black people in America. 

The Shadow League spoke to Marc J. Spears, NBA writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated, who could be living his final work night inside the NBA’s Disney Bubble. It’s been three long months for one of a select few journalists who were brought inside of the Bubble and privileged with a front row seat to a historic NBA pivot move in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.

The Shadow League: What was covering  NBA Disney Bubble like? 

Marc J. Spears: I’m still here…I haven’t left yet. I’ve been here since July 12th and I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, but I don’t have any control over how it ends. I feel extremely honored to be here. ESPN and The Undefeated certainly could have sent somebody else. I understand that and I respect that. So it’s not lost on me how special it is to be a part of this. Anytime I get a little fatigued or…it’s inevitable that you miss home bad, I can always say that I’m a part of history 

To say that I’ve been here and experienced life inside the NBA Bubble during a COVID-19 pandemic, I have stories that I can tell for the rest of my life. 

TSL: How Was The Interaction With The Players Inside The Bubble? 

Marc J. Spears: We didn’t have great access to players other than practice and games. The NBA did an amazing job of keeping us isolated from the players Maybe I’ll see the players riding a bike or walking, but for the most part, you didn’t get to see them unless you were in a practice or game 

I’ve had some great interactions, while working, with some players here. I spent some time with CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard while they were here. Spent some time with assistant coaches like Robert Pack and Popeye Jones and Phil Handy. But the NBA has done a great job of making sure the players have their privacy. 

There’s a restaurant called Three Bridges which is literally 50 yards outside my door. You probably heard LeBron James talk about it a few times and we can’t go there. In the midst of being here three months, I’ve been to that restaurant three times. Once to do an interview and once I got snuck in to get some takeout, but the players…that’s their sanctuary and where they go to relax and get a meal. 

TSL: What were you thinking when the NBA started boycotting games after Jacob Blake shooting? 

Marc J. Spears: It was a historical time. I think that Milwaukee Bucks guard George Hill sparked a mini-revolution that perhaps will grow in appreciation as time goes on. The players were frustrated about whether or not what they were doing to advance these causes were being listened to. They were being listened to, but I think they got so insulated in this Bubble that they couldn’t hear what was going on outside. 

So then the Jacob Blake shooting occurred and Hill was boiling inside and decided not to play and his teammates ended up deciding at the last minute before a playoff game to join him. The rest of the NBA followed, then the WNBA followed and then MLB followed. The NHL followed and Naomi Osaka followed and the world listened.

TSL: The Fight For Racial Equality Shifts To Voting Rights 

Marc J. Spears: Then the players started to feel like people were paying attention to what they were doing. They were like ‘Ok, we are changing the world and affecting the world, and I think they were able to get a better focus on something that they could do that would make an immediate impact and that’s being stronger on voting. 

I kind of felt that when they took that break it was a deep breath and a release of pain. Then there was healing… a refocus of mentality in terms of what to do during the rest of the days in the Bubble. I kind of feel like I was the first reporter to give an inkling that this was on the horizon with Toronto and the Celtics actually considering it. I’ll never forget being here at that time. 

TSL: How did those within the Bubble react to the decision not to charge cops in Breonna Taylor Shooting? 

Marc J. Spears: That one was a bit different because there were fewer teams present in the Bubble at that time. There was definitely some disappointment but I got the sense that nobody was surprised. 

I spoke to Rajon Rondo about it, who is from Kentucky, and perhaps he put it best when he said that they have a new Black female chief of police coming that he works closely with. And he’s more so looking for a change in the future for Louisville and hoping that more charges will be brought up against these police officers.   

TSL: Was this a best-case scenario outcome for the NBA?

Marc J. Spears: Assuming we end with no positive COVID-19 tests to the teams, players, and the friends and family that remain inside the Bubble, then yeah, it’s certainly the greatest case scenario. The positive COVID-19 tests in the NFL and MLB and stoppage of play, the NBA never had any of that. It did help that when the NBA returned they were going right into the latter part of their season, but we have been here for almost three months. We’ve been here a long time and certainly, there was a lot of ability to make errors. For them to figure this out was great. I remember how much fear there was not only by players and teams but even by some of the media to come here. I thought this was going to be the safest place on earth and it certainly didn’t disappoint.   

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