Best of SI: How the NBA Bubble Leveled the Playing Field

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The shot went up and in, and public-address announcer Kyle Speller got excited: Three-pointer for the San Antonio Spurs! A Utah Jazz coach quickly tapped on the plexiglass surrounding Speller to remind him: Dude, we’re the home team. Speller hit himself in the head. The Jazz coaches laughed.

Welcome to the NBA bubble, where somebody is always the home team but nobody is ever home. The miracle is that in two months of bubble P.A. work, bouncing from home team to another without going anywhere, Speller made that mistake only once.

The NBA has staged the only kind of season it could, and that postseason has gone better than anybody could have hoped. The league also went to great lengths to re-create the arena environment, from virtual fans to recorded cheers to graphics and P.A. announcer calls that are specific to each team’s home arena. Without that effort, the games would seem sterile, like they were being played in a lab. But the NBA cannot replace the feeling an arena hopping with 20,000 people.

Speller has been the Nuggets’ P.A. announcer for 15 years. He knows that if Tuesday’s Game 3 between the Nuggets and Lakers were actually in Denver—and in late May—Peyton Manning and John Elway and Drew Lock would probably show up, making it the place to be in Colorado that night. Instead, the hype man must sell the illusion that he is firing up a crowd.

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