Technically, the NBA is full of young men playing a game. But it is the kid in the man, the boundless athletic energy of youth, that makes him a multimillionaire living a life of unfathomable temptation and entitlement. It’s also why the kid in the man no longer responds to the word “no”. However, stick him in a bubble of self-discipline and accountability, where a single wrong move could imperil not only a billion-dollar industry but the health and welfare of everyone around him, and it quickly becomes the most fascinating and riveting of human lab experiments. After a 141-day hiatus since the last game was played on March 11, the NBA is back. Sort of. Everything is alien, from the time of year – midsummer – to the empty arena and dizzying list of Covid-19 medical protocols. One thing, though, remains unchanged: these are superior physical specimens, both wildly competitive and full of testosterone. Who knows how they will respond to the hermetically sealed bubble at the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida, where the league will crown a champion in three months’ time. Is the English Premier League facing being blown off course by its own NBA-style China row? Within days of reporting, cracks began to emerge. One player dissatisfied with the internal food options, ordered some chicken wings from a nearby restaurant and briefly left the bubble to meet the delivery man. Oops. He was forced to publicly apologise and endure an additional eight-day quarantine. But the NBA was allowed a Mulligan or two and could easily seal up a few cracks by making delivery men completely disappear. There was, however, something they can’t make disappear and that is the kid in the man. News that a woman on Instagram was going viral after claiming she was invited by a player into the bubble, had to send shivers through the suited-up corridors of the NBA head office in New York. According to Anna Mya, when the players arrived in Orlando last week, she was quick to get an invitation into the bubble while adding that she doesn’t think there is much chance of it surviving. Naturally, there was massive feedback and endless speculation about who the player was, so much so that Mya felt compelled to follow up with a caveat. “People calling me a snitch like it’s not known that they can have visitors in like 5 weeks. Well technically I didn’t know either until I got the invite,” she wrote. Still, who reaches out for a hook up five weeks down the road these days? Please. It’s all about the moment and immediate gratification. This is all very real and will only get more real when the games start and the passion flows. NBA return in Orlando features court with ‘Black Lives Matter’ logo and no benches Not surprisingly, the NBA was quick to set up an electronic anonymous hotline, the so-called “snitch line”, where players could rat out other players who were in violation of the strict bubble protocols. Somewhat surprisingly, they had a number of calls to the hotline in the first week, most concerning players who were not wearing masks in common areas. While it may sound relatively trivial, many players were in favour of calling out the perpetrators. They understand the stakes have never been higher for this NBA reboot. The killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died during an arrest, has been the catalyst for ongoing protests and civil unrest over police brutality towards blacks not only in the US, but globally. Close to 80 per cent of the players in the NBA are black and have been very prominent in lending their profile to the cause. A number of players did not want to participate in the NBA reboot because they felt it would distract from the more pressing issues, namely social justice and systemic racism. “Black Lives Matter” is prominently painted on the court all the games will be played on. If an act of random carelessness pops the NBA bubble, the wrath the perpetrator faces from management will be nothing compared to the reception he gets from his fellow players Gripped by a debilitating pandemic and the raging fight for social justice, the US is a very noisy place right now and NBA players are going to great lengths to ensure their voices are being heard. Shut up and dribble was never an option, even less so now as player after player remained vigilant in maintaining their message of social justice during the first encounters with the media this week, basically dismissing all basketball related questions. They own this platform now and they will dictate the terms of it. If an act of random carelessness pops the NBA bubble, the wrath the perpetrator faces from management will be nothing compared to the reception he gets from his fellow players. There will be no kidding around.