COVID-19 has forced everyone to innovate. It’s even present on the small screen as I’ve watched my Miami Heat defy all the odds and make it to the NBA Finals. For the NBA, thinking outside the box meant thinking inside the bubble — and they’re stronger than ever for it. 

For those of you who don’t follow sports: NBA players, staff, coaches, and family have been living “in the bubble” at Walt Disney World hotels since July, as have some sports writers, announcers and production crews. Three courts at the Wide World of Sports complex have been requisitioned for games, while others have been given over to practice and training.

Games without a live audience or a home-team advantage might sound depressing, but the league has kept its fans engaged and impressed. Camaraderie between fans and players is key to the basketball experience, and so the NBA designed virtual bleacher stands. Players at the empty arenas see real fans’ faces and hear their cheers as they play; fans can enjoy the virtual presence of fellow supporters. The NBA has inspired its viewers, encouraged its players, and future-proofed its business. In my opinion, the league has truly set the standard for operating creatively, responsibly, and effectively during the pandemic. You can also see how easily this approach can be utilized once we return back to normal to open up the in-person fan experience globally

Of course COVID isn’t the only crisis to rock the world this year, and the NBA has done a better job than most addressing Black Lives Matter and today’s movements for justice. Players can go on the court wearing jerseys with social justice messages; and hundreds of players have appeared with messages like “Say Their Names,” “Justice Now,” and “Black Lives Matter.” When the Milwaukee Bucks, shocked and angry at the violence against in protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, decided not to play Game 5 in a series, the NBA supported them. Few organizations have done a better job responding to today’s moral imperatives.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the NBA, the changes made, and other model innovators. Are there any other businesses or organizations that have impressed you with their agility in this strange year? Head to LinkedIn to join the discussion.