Do Americans think this season’s NBA title should have an “asterisk”?

Mark WhiteSenior Political Analyst
August 25, 2020, 5:27 PM UTC

Sports fans like to argue, and a perennial debate concerns championship “asterisks”: Should a title be viewed differently in a year when there were significant injuries, strange flukes, suspensions, or bad calls by the referees? It is so common among fans of the National Basketball Association (NBA) that a popular NBA podcast, "No Dunks", parodied it earlier this year by making tongue-in-cheek arguments for why no championships since 2001 count. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic adds a new wrinkle to this argument. The NBA played an abbreviated regular season this year, and the entirety of the playoffs is currently being played at a neutral location at a resort (known as “the bubble”) designed to protect players, staff, and media from contracting the coronavirus. 

A YouGov poll of 24,472 adults asked whether this year’s NBA championship will be more, equally, or less legitimate than in regular, non-coronavirus years. Respondents who indicated that they do not follow the NBA were removed from analysis. 

About half (47%) who follow the league say that this year’s title would count just as much as any other year—fans shouldn’t put on asterisk next to it. More than a quarter (28%) think one should, saying that the championship this year is diminished.  

An interesting argument, however, is if the title should be given extra weight, since teams don’t get home-court advantage and must deal with the stress of the pandemic and policies surrounding what they can do in the bubble. Only 5 percent give this response, and an additional fifth (21%) of the sample say they're not sure. 

YouGov polling consistently shows that Republicans and Democrats view the pandemic differently, so responses to this question are also broken out by political identification. 

Democrats see the bubble championship similarly to Americans as a whole: 51 percent see it as equally legitimate, 22 percent as lesser than, 6 percent as more impressive, and 21 not sure. Republicans are 8 points less likely to see the title as legitimate (43%) as any other year, while they are 13 points more likely to see it as less impressive (35%). 

One may expect to see generational differences, given the debates about “old school” versus “new school” basketball, but YouGov finds that the responses are about the same across all age groups. 

Methodology: YouGov asked 24,472 US adults in a Daily Agenda poll: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Basketball Association (NBA) shortened their season and is holding their playoffs in a “bubble” right now, where all teams stay at the same resort and play at a neutral location with no fans present. Which of the following statements comes closest to your opinion, even if none are exactly right? With the possible responses of: “This year’s champion will...”  Choices: NOT be as legitimate as regular years; the title won’t “count” as much, be equally as legitimate as regular years; the title will “count” the same amount, be MORE legitimate than regular years; the title will “count” even more. Respondents could also indicate “Not sure” or “N/A - I don’t follow the NBA.” Data were weighted on age, education, gender, race, and Census region to be nationally representative of adults in the United States. 

Image: Getty