Should NBA bubble championship come with an asterisk? Giannis doesn't think so

If the NBA manages to complete its bubble season and crown a champion at Disney World, should that championship come with an asterisk?

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t think so. The Milwaukee Bucks superstar weighed in on Wednesday on a conference call, telling reporters that the 2020 title “is going to be the toughest championship you could ever win.”

Of course, Antetokounmpo’s Bucks will enter the bubble league with the NBA’s best record. They’re among the favorites to cut down the nets in Disney World. So he has a vested interest in this year’s championship being validated.

But that doesn’t make him wrong.

There’s a lot to consider here.

Factors in the asterisk discussion

Rosters will be diminished. A handful of players have already opted out, including Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley, Dallas Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein and Davis Bertans.

Bradley’s absence will have the biggest impact of the players announced so far. A starter on a championship favorite will be gone come playoff time.

So far, no star players on contenders have shown signs of missing the restart. Nikola Jokic is probably the closest to fit that bill. The All-NBA center for the third-place Denver Nuggets tested positive for COVID-19 last week. But head coach Michael Malone said on Wednesday that Jokic “feels great” and is expected to travel with the team to Orlando.

But there’s no way to predict what players and teams will be impacted by COVID-19 once the games are scheduled to tip on July 30. The Brooklyn Nets are facing attrition with Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan testing positive and Jordan opting not to play. He joins Wilson Chandler in opting out on a team that already has its star player in Irving ruled out. But the 30-34 Nets weren’t going to contend for a title to begin with.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn't want an asterisk next to this year's NBA champion. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn't want an asterisk next to this year's NBA champion. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

One team still has to beat out 15 others, right?

In the end, one team will have to emerge from a full slate of playoff teams as the last team standing.

All teams will play in the same bizarre circumstances of the bubble where home-court advantage is eliminated as a factor. But not all teams will necessarily be impacted the same by COVID-19.

Where others stand on the debate

So what do others around the NBA think?

Doc Rivers is on the same page as Antetokounmpo. The Los Angeles Clippers head coach cited a conversation with NBA commissioner Adam Silver when talking with reporters on Wednesday.

This year’s champion “deserves a gold star, not an asterisk,” Rivers said Silver told him, noting the mental grind of this particular NBA season.

Rivers’ son and Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers agrees.

“I think whoever wins should have an asterisk next to it,” Rivers told Turner Sports’ Taylor Rooks. “But only for it being one of the toughest championships ever won. You’re asking guys to take 3-4 months off, then come back and find chemistry. Then play during a pandemic while players are fighting for Black Lives Matter.

“I think it will be one of the more tougher championships ever won. Only season ever like this.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr — who for once doesn’t have a stake in the championship race — also agrees.

“The one thing I feel really strongly about is a championship under these conditions is gonna count,” Kerr told 95.7 The Game in June. “People are gonna want to put an asterisk next to it. There's no asterisk in my mind. This is gonna be a brutally difficult journey to try and win a title.”

Shaquille O’Neal does not. The four-time NBA champion and TNT analyst said in May long before the NBA announced its bubble league that the NBA should just cancel the season and that a team that wins a championship this season won’t command the respect of a title won in normal circumstances.

“I think we should scrap the season,” O’Neal told USA Today. “Everybody go home, get healthy, come back next year. Just scrap the season. Just scrap it.

“To try and come back now and do a rush playoffs as a player? Any team that wins this year, there's an asterisk. They're not going to get the respect.”

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