The Gubble: NBA G League opens play in Disney bubble

Brian Bowen II (pictured in a November 2019 game) led the Mad Ants with 22 points in their G League opener Wednesday.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE

For the G League Ignite, it was a beginning.

For Jeremy Lin, it may be a new beginning.

The G League season has finally started, opening Wednesday inside a bubble at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and using many of the same buildings and amenities the NBA did when it played there last summer and fall.

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Indiana Pacers‘ G League affiliate, opened play Wednesday with a 125-120 loss to the Westchester Knicks.

And the Ignite — the program that was formed to serve primarily as a one-year development program for elite NBA draft prospects — got the first win in G League bubble history, beating Lin and the Santa Cruz Warriors 109-104. NBA veteran Jarrett Jack led the Ignite with 23 points, and likely 2021 lottery pick Jonathan Kuminga scored 19.

“They’re embracing the process of trying to go from amateurs to professionals, and high-level professionals at that,” Jack said.

He’s setting an example. So is Lin. Wednesday was the ninth anniversary of perhaps the peak of the phenomenon known as Linsanity, a 2½-week run in which Lin was starring for the New York Knicks.

On Feb. 10, 2012, he scored 38 points, outdueling Kobe Bryant, who had 34, and leading the Knicks past the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden.

On Feb. 10, 2021, he had 18 points for Santa Cruz in a gym with no fans — and had no complaints.

“Back then, it was really just a lot of space, a ton of usage, a ton of pick-and-rolls and at that time I could get hot on certain nights, but shooting wasn’t as much a part of my game as it is now,” Lin said. “Now, it’s very different. It’s a much more poised game.”

Lin has hopes of getting back to the NBA, though he understands his presence will show the G League’s younger players what it takes to have a long pro career.

“He continues to be a true professional,” Santa Cruz coach Kris Weems said. “He takes care of himself. He eats right. He’s a model and example for the other guys.”

Lin said he’s been learning how to handle the challenge of the bubble, dealing with hectic practice schedules and strict rules regarding social distancing and the other health and safety protocols.

But the bubble hasn’t been a totally foreign concept for everybody in the G League; 18 players who got time in Wednesday’s six games were in the NBA bubble last season, including Jeremiah Martin and Donta Hall, who made a combined 17 appearances with Brooklyn at Walt Disney World last summer.

Luka Samanic played two games in the bubble for the San Antonio Spurs last season. He was back Wednesday with the Austin Spurs, helping them win their debut after logging only 11 minutes in four brief NBA appearances this season.

“Really happy to be here,” Samanic said. “Can’t wait for the next game.”

The 18 teams in the G League bubble will all play 15 games in the regular season. The top eight clubs advance to a single-elimination playoff starting March 8, and the title game is on March 11.

Not every NBA club sent its affiliate to the G League bubble, for a variety of reasons. Some players on two-way contracts would ordinarily be bouncing back and forth between the G League and the NBA this season. Others, like Miami’s Gabe Vincent, have spent the entirety of this season in the NBA.

The Heat don’t have a G League team in the bubble, and Vincent has been called on to play often for Miami because of the team’s issues with injuries and virus-related matters this season — and because Vincent has played well and earned his spot.

“I’m extremely fortunate,” Vincent said. “Being on a two-way is amazing, having an opportunity to be up top is even better. That’s something you’re working for once you’re in the G League, to make an NBA roster.”

Vincent has some friends in the G League. He’s rooting for them to join him in the NBA soon.

“I’m definitely close to some people who are in the bubble,” Vincent said. “My understanding is they’re all just eager to play.”

The G League did not crown a champion last season. It suspended play March 12, 2020, one day after the NBA originally did, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and ultimately canceled the remainder of its season in early June.