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Race and Economy

After pressure from players, some Black-owned businesses profit from NBA ‘bubble’

Erika Beras Jul 30, 2020
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A Celtics-Rockets game in February, shortly before the season was paused. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Race and Economy

After pressure from players, some Black-owned businesses profit from NBA ‘bubble’

Erika Beras Jul 30, 2020
Heard on:
A Celtics-Rockets game in February, shortly before the season was paused. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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The NBA returns tonight. Games won’t look like they did before the league hit pause in March: social distancing on the bench, no fans in the stands and no home court advantage.

The 22 teams have been staying at the Walt Disney World Resort in central Florida, in a quarantine “bubble.” The cost: more than $170 million.

Keeping the players satisfied while they’re in the bubble? Not easy, according to Dave Berri, a sports economics professor at Southern Utah University. Players are used to making their own choices, but “now you’re centralizing everything. So it’s one NBA making the decisions,” Berri said.

About everything from the blankets in the hotel rooms — not long enough — to the food. Players made fun of meals on social media and asked why the owner of the Houston Rockets got a catering contract.

J.R. Smith of the L.A. Lakers made an Instagram video about it a couple of weeks ago.

“Ya’ll don’t think it would have been dope to get some of these Black restaurants in the surrounding Orlando area?” he said in the video.

The NBA seems to be listening to what its players want. The league didn’t get back to Marketplace before deadline, but it is supporting players as they bring Black Lives Matter messages to the game.

Meanwhile, the players feel empowered. Courtney Cox is an assistant professor of race and sport in the Indigenous, race, and ethnic studies department at the University of Oregon. She said now the players are saying everything we do can be more intentional — including encouraging the league to spend bubble cash in the community.

Last week, an NBA official showed up to offer a catering contract at Seana’s Caribbean|Soul Food restaurant in Orlando. It’s owned by Joshua Johnson, a 31-year-old Black man who said he’s an even bigger NBA fan now.

“Everything that’s going on, not every organization has done this,” he said.

And in this economic climate, the newfound attention is welcome, Johnson said. Just Wednesday, eight people came in and asked for exactly what LeBron ordered: salmon, greens and mac and cheese.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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