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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In a league where every movement is tracked and every statistic is measured, chemistry remains the rare, unquantifiable variable that dictates NBA wins and losses.

The intrigue: Fostering NBA chemistry has become increasingly difficult now that players change teams so often. But nothing has ever impacted chemistry-building quite like the pandemic. The question is: has it helped or hurt?

  • On one hand, most social-bonding experiences (i.e. team dinners) are off limits. Teams are also practicing less, which limits on-court chemistry in a sport where knowing your teammates' tendencies means everything.
  • On the other hand, there's a heightened sense of camaraderie due to COVID-19 and the protocols each player must follow, which could improve chemistry in new ways.

Consider this: Due to the short offseason, rookie Anthony Edwards made his NBA debut just 33 days after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Timberwolves.

  • He barely had time to get to know his teammates before embarking on a season in which he's encouraged to stay in his hotel room on the road.
  • There are countless stories of NBA teammates developing off-court friendships that translated to on-court success. It's harder to do that this season, especially for rookies and players who changed teams this offseason.

The bottom line: So, amid the strangest season of their lives, have NBA teams come together or drifted apart? The truth is, we'll never know.

  • "Everyone you talk to around the league has an opinion on chemistry," sportswriter Michael Pina, who wrote a great piece on this topic, tells me.
  • "But unlike almost everything else in the NBA these days, there's no way to verify whether or not they're right."
Mark Cuban. Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

I reached out to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to get his take on NBA chemistry and how it has been affected by the pandemic.

How important is chemistry in the modern NBA?

"You can't win a championship without it. Chemistry alone won't make you a winning team, but a winning team without chemistry won't win a championship."

How do you think the pandemic has impacted chemistry this season?

"I can only speak for us, but I think it has helped in many ways. The entire travel party realizes that they are in this battle against COVID together; that they all have the same goals to stay healthy and win games. It's created a unique bond that is unlike anything in the past."

What do the Mavericks do to foster chemistry? Has that been impacted?

"Well, certainly the old team activities playbook is out the window. But we have a psychologist that travels with the team and is available 24/7 to help players and staff deal with the stress that all of this creates. It's not easy on anyone, particularly when guys are quarantined and the stress levels go up even more."

Is basketball chemistry similar to chemistry in any workplace?

"No. Not at all like regular business. Night and day. There is far more transparency in sports, so chemistry is more important. In regular business, culture is critically important; you want everyone to understand what's important to the company. But that's different than team chemistry."

Go deeper

Instagram's boss faces Congress' questions on harm to teens

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED

The head of Instagram will find himself in Congress' crosshairs for the first time Wednesday in the one area lawmakers have shown they are willing to pass tech regulations — protecting youngsters online.

Why it matters: Republicans and Democrats have found common ground in grilling tech companies on how their products harm children, especially after revelations in The Wall Street Journal about Instagram's potential harm to the mental health of teen girls.

Jan. 6 committee to start contempt proceedings against Meadows

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 select committee plans to move forward with contempt proceedings against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for his refusal to comply with the panel's subpoena.

Why it matters: The committee has used the threat of contempt — and the associated financial and reputational costs — to try to ensure evasive witnesses sit for their depositions.

Complaint to FTC: Amazon search results full of potentially deceiving ads

Photo: Nigel Kirby/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Amazon does not sufficiently distinguish between its search results and paid ads, potentially "deceiving millions of consumers," according to a complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission.

Why it matters: Joan Moriarty, research director for the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions that filed the complaint, told the Washington Post the group is "very hopeful" that the FTC will investigate the complaint because Lina Khan (D), a known Amazon critic, is now chair.