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This season truly separated the men from the boys

In an NBA season characterised by #BLM, extended isolation and lack of social interaction, Kulani Nkuna says many crumbled and made room for the cream to rise to the top
Fri, Oct 16, 2020

The Los Angeles Lakers celebrate with the Larry O'Brien Trophy after winning Game Six of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on October 11. PHOTO: Gallo Images

Bubble. Bubba. Bubba Sparxxx. Remember him? In the American South, the term bubba is used as a term of endearment to refer to small boys. It is believed to be formed from the word brother.

On the east coast of South Africa reside the Xhosa people who are prone to proclaiming that they carry Azania on their backs… Anyway, like the Americans, the Xhosa also refer to those they adore as bhabha, a term of endearment. The etymology, it is said, comes from baby, which later became babe, then later bhabha.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find the ‘big man’ syndrome. In Senegal there is Baaba Maal, Congo produced Papa Wemba, in New York there was Big Poppa and Big Daddy Kane, in Limpopo we have Papa Penny, and the Vatican operates from the papacy.

The lesson here, other than the geo-linguistic links, is that men are babies or fathers, but more the former rather than the latter. The transition from bhabha to daddy is often drastic and offers nothing in terms of the second act of life.

When Covid-19 disrupted the NBA season back in March, some of the league’s Big Men went into the Orlando Bubble kicking and screaming. The Bubble is the isolation zone at Disney World in Bay Lake, Florida.

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Most wanted the season to be completely cancelled amid genuine fears of Covid-19, while others did not want to forsake their million-dollar mansions, family, children and girlfriends. The Bubble meant that the players would be secluded in hotel rooms with very little to do. They would play without fans and the whole thing just seemed daunting, nje.

Los Angeles Lakers point guard, Lebron James famously complained about how this would be the first time he would be without his mom, wife and kids for so long.

#BlackLivesMatter had reached its zenith and existential questions were on whether or not African Americans should be worried about basketball and winning championships when black men were systematically getting killed by the police.

Then against the run of play, Los Angeles Clippers guard, Lou Williams infamously slipped out of the Bubble and went to a strip club. He would later say that he went to that particular establishment for their world-famous wings (*insert rolling eyes emoji*).

Bubble thirst could be contained no more when a player violated Covid-19 protocol and sneaked a woman into the Bubble, placing the entire operation at risk.

The NBA had to act. Something had to be done about the high levels of Cerebos penetrating through the campus. On August 13, the league sent out a memo indicating that they would allow players to invite some guests to the league campus in Orlando between the first and second rounds of the restarted playoffs. There would be some provisos, though.

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"Players’ families and long-time close personal friends were eligible as guests in the NBA bubble. The league will exclude business associates, casual acquaintances and any individual the player has not previously met in person or with whom the player has had limited in-person interactions (e.g., known by the player only through social media or an intermediary).”

In other words, wives and girlfriends only. The single lads were doomed. But how would they determine who was a girlfriend or casual acquaintance? The suspicion is that the NBA turned a blind eye to this on some occasions. Nonetheless, guests were subjected to Covid-19 testing and 10-day quarantine before letting them loose to play with other kids on the campus.

As time marched on, oobhabha became ootata. The complaints started to dwindle, and a laser-sharp focus on the game at hand instead of sexual yearning took hold. Questions of legacy and place in history became the new desire, and 22 NBA teams became two. Miami Heat and the LA Lakers went at it with some tight games here and there.

Ultimately, the Lakers dispatched of “them goons from Dade County” (as said by Kendrick Perkins) in six games, garnering King James his fourth NBA title and Anthony “AD” Davis his first.

The finals were a gritty affair as both teams dug deep to unearth any surplus salt left during the early Bubble prohibition days. The aggression was palpable on the screen as the performance of masculinity dominated celebrations with heightened grunt.

History remembers the victors, but we will also remember how these salty boys became men in Orlando, Florida.

*Special props are in order to Jimmy “Buckets” Butler, who put Miami Heat on his back and never gave up.

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