For the past 15 years, Ben Golliver has shared his love for basketball through his writing.
First, Golliver ran a self-published blog titled “Draft Kevin Durant.” He quickly moved through the sports media world writing for CBSSports.com and blazersedge.com in Portland. After moving to Los Angeles in 2015, he published hard-hitting articles as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, and today, as a National NBA writer for the Washington Post.
He has loved basketball through it all–the good, the bad, and the bubble, and chronicled the historic 2019-20 season in “Bubbleball: Inside The NBA’s Fight To Save A Season.” To commemorate the two year anniversary of the start of the NBA bubble season, Golliver talked about a tumultuous year of professional basketball, creative processes, and global events with fellow bubble alumnus Andy Bernstein on the Legends Of Sport podcast.
“We’re bonded for life as bubble alumni. I feel like 30, 40 years, you’re never gonna forget the Coronado Springs resort,” Golliver said. “The bubble playoffs, when the guys were healthy, they were playing amazing basketball… I always say I look back at the experience fondly but I don’t want to go back to Disney World again, ever.”
Throughout his career, Golliver traveled the country for the biggest NBA stories, including
reporting first hand on the NBA pandemic shutdown on March 11, 2020. Golliver saw
Coronavirus anxieties throughout the season, but the shutdown started during warmups for an Oklahoma City Thunder game.
“I didn’t think that was good for the sport, where you’ve got almost 20k people in a building [Paycom Center] hearing ‘You’re gonna be O.K., just go home,’… At that point we knew very very little about the virus,” Golliver said.
In July 2020, 4 months after the league shutdown, players and media members arrived at the Florida Walt Disney Coronado Springs Resort—a new, self-contained “bubble” for the NBA.
Golliver, who spent 93 days in the bubble reporting for the Washington Post, was proud the
NBA kept playing.
“I think a blank spot on the part of the record book that says ‘This Year’s Champion,’ it would just knot me,” Golliver said. “The true basketball fans, the ones who were watching those games, I know there was like three, four games back to back to back some days… I think that they’re always gonna have a soft spot for the bubble.”
Golliver was, at first, skeptical about bubble safety but came to appreciate the planning and
styling of the miniature world of basketball.
“After 3 days I was like ‘No, this is a really smartly-designed, well-controlled environment’… and that’s a huge credit for the league,” Golliver said. “You wouldn’t know it was in the bubble vs. outside the bubble based on how well they… constructed the environment to pull the best out of these players.”
Summer 2020 was pivotal in the NBA’s fight for the Black Lives Matter movement and the NBA public health strategy. Golliver also had no choice but to also focus his reporting on the world outside the bubble.
“The union had some very broad ideas and initiatives they wanted to put out there… so I
already knew that [social justice] was going to be a big focus of my writing and reporting,”
Golliver said. “The public health part was trickier…so to get thrown into that deep end in
February and March was pretty tough.”
Throughout the season, Golliver highlighted the player experience with the Black Lives Matter movement, including the police killings of George Floyd, Jacob Blake (which caused a league- wide boycott) and Breonna Taylor.
“The Jacob Blake canceled game is gonna be the most memorable playoff game I probably
ever cover… I spent a lot of time… walking through minute by minute what happened that day,” Golliver said. “When they decided to not charge the police officers in Louisville [in the Breonna Taylor case]… [the players] couldn’t believe that it had happened again…. When it’s a more systemic failing… that’s where it starts to feel overwhelming, even for guys that are incredibly wealthy, incredibly talented and, you know, among the very best of their craft in the entire world. Those kind of skills and those kind of resources don’t protect you or insulate you from having the same kind of feelings that everyone else does.”
America’s social upheaval came directly to the bubble in September 2020, when protestors
blocked an NBA bus route to involve players in advocacy against the Florida police killing of
“There was a lot of [players] who were saying ‘Are we even supposed to be here? Shouldn’t we be out in the streets protesting with our communities?’ Had they left that bus they would’ve been out for the playoffs probably for two weeks,” Golliver said.
As NBA players fought for change while in isolation, skill and energy thrived. Golliver reflected on Anthony Davis and Lebron James’ post-victory celebrations (in a near-silent stadium), the mental toughness and grit of the Miami Heat, and the toned-down Lakers’ victory celebration. Golliver believed the bubble was a reporter’s challenge and a basketball fanatic’s dream.
“It was like the espresso version of an NBA playoffs because the games were coming faster… and so the typical downtime you have within a series just doesn’t exist,” Golliver said. “It was really exciting, really, really challenging… There was always something happening and you just kind of had to keep up.”
While in Florida, Golliver investigated the enjoyment and struggle stars found on and beyond the court. He used his insider view of the players’ backgrounds, including “most bubble player”
Jamal Murray, who was trained to “block out the noise” and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was separated from his newborn and “surrounded by his brothers all the time” in the bubble.
“It really depended a lot on your personality, how well you adapted to it,” Golliver said.
In his 93 days in the bubble, Golliver wrote weekly check-ins for the Washington Post that he compared to a diary. The story of “Bubbleball” came about miraculously.
“After about three weeks [writing], an agent reached out… he’s like ‘this is a book, do you want me to try to pitch this?’… There was one publisher who was just really, really excited about the idea… and so we actually got the deal together within a couple weeks,” Golliver said.
When Golliver returned home in October 2020, he “wrote basically non-stop for about three
months,” supported by his practice in the bubble, where he said, “you have to strip out every other aspect of your life and just focus on one thing.”
“Had I written it while I was in the bubble there wouldn’t have been enough perspective… ‘cause it was just your day-to-day life and it was overwhelming,” said Golliver. “If I had waited like a year or two to write it, it would have felt too far away… When you told me it was the 1-year anniversary of the bubble, it feels like the 10-year anniversary of the bubble.”
Today, Ben Golliver analyzes basketball in his podcast “Greatest of All Talk” and as a weekly
podcast guest on “Locked on NBA.” Though Golliver now has an aversion to Disney World, his love for basketball only grew in the bubble.