This COVID-19 summers must-watch show is… an NBA rookies YouTube page?

  • Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle in his natural habitat: camera in hand. Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
  • If you heard of Thybulle previously, you're an NBA nerd who loves defense (or maybe a University of Washington alum). Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
  • Thybulle has been soaring inside the NBA bubble this summer, though. Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Even if you don't like sports, the NBA bubble in Orlando has been a fascinating epidemiological experiment: if you had seemingly infinite resources available and every participant willingly agreed to follow protocols based on our best understanding of a nascent viral pandemic, could you construct a truly safe environment? Take note, US government, as so far the answer has been, "Yes." As of August 19, the NBA has officially had zero new COVID-19 infections to report over the league's five-week restart. And that's with the league needing to utilize contingency quarantine protocols for players unexpectedly leaving and traveling (which they've done for everything from family emergencies to, um, lemon-pepper chicken wings?).

Traditional media has been invited inside to an extent in order to document this unprecedented playoff season, and the NBA has relied heavily on Zoom access to players for other reporters. Twitter, naturally, has also birthed an aggregator account that will bring you all the beer-chugging player social media you desire. But nearly all of these glimpses into bubble life remain limited—the league has shifted access areas for press on a dime, and player interviews have time restrictions (and often PR personnel on the line to step in if things get into unwanted territory).

All of this makes Philadelphia 76ers guard Matisse Thybulle's ongoing video diary remarkable and essential viewing. I've never been one to get into YouTube series or personalities, but his eight-episodes-and-counting of Welcome To The Bubble has been the can't-miss viewing experience of the summer.

Episode one of Welcome To The Bubble by Matisse Thybulle

Thybulle's just a kid by league standards—a rookie beloved by online stat heads who appreciate defense, largely unknown otherwise—so his approach lacks the polish of a superstar who started a production house or the time-worn savvy of a veteran who might overly self-censor. Instead, he does what any of us might do during an unusual experience: Thybulle brings his Canon EOS 6D Mark II with him everywhere as he navigates this strange new world, keeps the thing rolling, and then edits and publishes 10-minute diaries during down time.

In early videos, Thybulle demystifies bubble policies and experiences as much as any traditional media. Even if players will ultimately come into contact early and often during games, Welcome To The Bubble shows they must stay apart in fixed-position chairs during breaks on the practice court. Disney park wristbands that might normally FastPass a ride on Space Mountain instead help a player's health data travel with them seamlessly for instant clearance. And Thybulle walks the audience through this process: after arriving to the bubble and quarantining in their rooms until passing a consecutive number of COVID-19 tests, players then must take their temperature daily and head to a ballroom regularly for nose swabs. All that medical context lives in an app (developed with the help of the NBA, much like that new COVID-19 saliva test), which is synced to the wristband that grants healthy players access to various parts of the Disney sports complex.

While such granular NBA regulations never let those in Orlando ever forget the extraordinary circumstances, at the same time, these are young men away from their families and living among their peers for an extended period of time. It can kinda, sorta be fun adult summer camp during downtime. Thybulle charmingly brings viewers along for the ride in this aspect, too. We get to see some world-class athletes enjoying some very basic activities—golf, fishing, corn hole—for the first time, and luckily Thybulle and his teammates aren't afraid to look like amusing amateurs in front of the camera (despite providing ample ammunition to rip one another).

Perhaps most interesting of all for this particular moment, Thybulle continues to press record as he and his 76ers teammates have some real conversations about the elephant in the room: race, and specifically how NBA players might be able to leverage this high profile spotlight to spark real change in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police violence. At press conferences and during televised games, NBA stars have been quite eloquent and strategic about how to use their time with the media to further messages about Black Lives Matter or about particular incidents (Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, for instance, has been writing Breonna Taylor's name on his shoes game in and game out). But Welcome To The Bubbles lets us in on the candid conversations being had behind the scenes about why this work is important and what exact actions and strategies might achieve the best results. The 76ers talk about trying to make their arena a polling place ala the Atlanta Hawks, about shouting out locally-owned Black businesses whenever possible, and about emphasizing education as the first step towards building a more equitable society.

With so much attention on the NBA bubble in general, Thybulle's smRead More – Source