Iguodala is a regular golfer, but golf inside the bubble takes on a new meaning. It is a release in an environment where there are not many ways to escape. “I only golf in between series. During a series, no,” Iguodala told USA TODAY Sports. “I hurt my ankle in the Milwaukee series. I didn’t see outside for like five days. I seriously had bad thoughts in my brain.”
One day, Rivers asked a course employee which player was playing the most golf. Rivers thought for sure it was Smith, an avid golfer who will tune into a golf tournament on his iPad in the locker room after a day game. “Without a thought, he said, ‘Oh, Millsap by a long shot. … It’s not even close,’ ” Rivers said. “So during the game or before the game we were laughing because I asked him (Millsap) did he play yesterday, and he goes, ‘Oh, yeah, I got out there.’ I said, ‘When do you have time?’ I don't know how he's doing it, but he's doing it.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was hesitant to praise Hayward for his sacrifice partly because he learned about the revelation through the media instead of directly. "If he wants to go back for the birth of his child, that takes priority," Stevens said. "That's his decision and it's, you know, I want to leave it at that. That's his decision."
Rachel Nichols: Hayward told me his wife Robyn isn't in active labor yet, but she's progressed thru enough pre-labor stages that the baby could come at any time, from tonight to the next few days. He doesn't have his phone on the bench with him (per NBA rules) but will be checking it at the half
Rachel Nichols: Gordon Hayward was originally supposed to leave the Bubble for the birth of his fourth child, but since he just got a bunch of unexpected time with his family due to his injury, he told me the current plan is to stay with the Celtics for as far as they go.
Marc J. Spears: NBA commissioner Adam Silver is expected to be in the Bubble next week, sources tell @TheUndefeated.
In an attempt to continue it’s season, the NBA looked for a home where the basketball season could safely continue — Which ended up being at Walt Disney World Resort. @ScottGustin has now confirmed the barricades at Disney’s Grand Floridian are down and ITM was there to confirm it.
Jay King: It’s starting to get weird that, in a bubble, the Celtics haven’t won a “home game” since the first round. Five straight “home” losses. Four straight “road” wins. I wish I were smart enough to calculate the odds of such strangeness.
Ira Winderman: Micky Arison and Nick Arison have joined Pat Riley in the bubble viewing area at Disney. Not in the full-quarantine bubble, but viewing from an elevated area at Wide World of Sports arena.
Andrew Bernstein scored his first NBA gig as a photographer at the 1983 All-Star Game. Over the course of 37 years, he has served as team photographer for Los Angeles teams like the Clippers, Dodgers, Kings and, more famously, the Lakers. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NBA season for more than four months, Bernstein was forced to be anywhere but the hardwood. Now as both the Clippers and Lakers are in the midst of an NBA Finals run, Bernstein is on the floor in Orlando covering the sport he knows best.
What does your day-to-day look like in the bubble right now? Andrew Bernstein: It’s a little bit like Groundhog Day — you have to check your phone or your calendar to make sure what day it is. I just realized it’s the first day of September, so that’s another month. The day kind of starts off with me trying to get a little bit of a workout in, and then we all have to get tested. First thing in the morning, we test each other. We test ourselves in the room with an oxygen [device] and a thermometer that’s hooked into an app that’s fed back to the central area where they monitor all of us. We have to go actually physically to a room to get a nasal and throat swab every single day. That’s how they keep it safe and they keep all of us healthy.
Andrew Bernstein: This is still NBA basketball, no matter where it’s played or how it’s presented. The importance of the games is going to ratchet up as we get from one round to the next to the next, so I do feel a playoff atmosphere. You don’t have the fans and you don’t have all that energy in the arena, but in terms of the gains and the competitiveness, that’s still the same as it’s always been, and it’s going to get more intense as we get further into the playoffs. I love documenting that and that I get to be a part of that.
Seana’s (pronounced Shawna’s) is just one of a handful of local, Black- and Latinx-owned restaurants that have been league-approved to deliver into the NBA’s bubble and just part of a delicious smorgasbord of culinary options. Among other restaurant and catering choices, chef Shawn Loving was brought into Disney World from Detroit and provides food to teams and players as the general manager of the Executive Chef Kitchen. In August, he told the Detroit Free Press, his kitchen made 120–140 meals a day. Chef Alexia Grant, who is also the personal chef for Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, operated a pop-up Comfort Kitchen by Lex Grant restaurant in Disney, and provided breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch options to bubble attendees.
In restarting the league in Orlando, both players and those in the league office emphasized the importance of supporting businesses owned by people of color. Food is just one way they’ve done so. “It’s given me hope again,” says Dannie Justin, the owner of Justins Caribbean Fusion Restaurant.
On Aug. 3, the Dallas Mavericks became the first team to try Seana’s cooking. Among other details of their meal, they ordered 250 wings, 100 fried shrimp, at least a half-dozen oxtail dishes and plenty of mac and cheese. They enjoyed the restaurant’s food so much that Johnson says Dallas ordered at least five additional times before leaving the bubble. Molina says the Pelicans placed her biggest order yet—dining on flavorful Cuban and Tripleta sandwiches, among other sandwich types, and a variety of homemade empanadas. She’s served most teams, including the Celtics, 76ers and Lakers. Like with the general public, Sofrito’s churrasco steak has been her most popular seller to NBA players (though, Dominican Republic native Al Horford was especially fond of Molina’s patacon).
In the conference semifinals, capped off by the Clippers’ utter collapse, the home team went just 5-19 (.208), losing each game on average by 3.5 points. Five and 19! At one point, the home team lost nine straight games. Yes, the home team -- the one with virtual fans plastered on giant screens and home-curated audio recordings that blare from the speakers.
Dwight Howard spoke for the first time Wednesday in nearly a month. He acknowledged that being confined to the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World has been very challenging for him. "There’s really nothing to do," Howard said. "If I can be honest with you, there’s nowhere to go, there’s no way to release anything. Any feeling that you might have, it’s just like we’re stuck."
Howard was asked if he ever thought about leaving and going home. "I'll speak about some of the things at a later date," he said. "But right now, the focus is on us winning this championship, and what I can do to help this team win. Obviously, coming in, I felt like, 'don't do anything that would be a distraction.' But at the present time, I'll save those comments to a later date."
When asked about his mindset at the time, Howard said that topic is no longer pertinent. "Right now, the only thing that matters is Denver," he said. "That situation is behind us, so we're just looking forward to this first game on Friday."
Ben Golliver: Clippers’ Lou Williams on bubble life after elimination: “I haven’t seen my 2 daughters in 68 days. I know the exact amount of time I hadn’t seen them. When you deal w/ that type of stuff & you’re in a controlled environment, you’re thankful you’re safe but it can be taxing.”
Chris Mannix: These Disney floors have been slippery. Ball kids had been using mops for most of the restart. Now they are cleaning up wet spots with towels, an NBA mandated change.
Last Thursday, Brice Arthur was at home in suburban Toronto, watching Game 3 between the Raptors and the Boston Celtics—another contest decided by a thrilling, last-second heave. He spent the night with two computer screens open—one set to the game broadcast and another to bang out his story. Once the final buzzer sounded, he logged into Zoom, toggling between channels in the Raptors' locker room and the postgame presser, trying to cull as much info as he can and get in a pertinent question. Anyone who’s spent the last six months longing for unmediated contact with friends, with family, or even total strangers, will recognize the sense of exasperation the limits and challenges of technology brought Arthur. “Whatever you lose in that translation—it’s not the same,” he said.
The Toronto Star was willing to send Arthur into Fortress NBA—at a five-figure cost—but he declined. With four kids requiring in-home schooling while Ontario works out the kinks in its reopening plan, Arthur didn’t want to go away for three months and then spend two more weeks in quarantine after returning to Canada. “I’ll do a lot for my career but it wasn’t worth it to us this time,” Arthur explained.
Arthur ended up ditching his chosen beat entirely. In mid-March, his editor offered him the chance to become the paper’s coronavirus columnist. Those four months presented an entirely new series of challenges: including becoming steeped in virology, immunology, and all the attendant fields impacted by a still-metastasizing global crisis. He’s only recently returned to covering the games. But in the end, it wasn’t much of a choice. “It just matters more,” he said. “It was the story of all of us.”
As a two-way player, Hoard wasn’t positive he’d be back with the Blazers for the NBA’s resumption this summer. But as documented in a YouTube special called ‘The Tale of Jaylen Hoard's journey,’ Hoard was grateful for the Orlando opportunity. Hoard teamed up with Paris based Photographer Charly G. as he presents the JAYBOOGGY Series, ‘The Tale of Jaylen Hoard's journey.’
Shams Charania: The NBA will allow teams advancing to the Finals to bring three more staff members and 12 team staff guests into the Orlando bubble, sources tell @The Athletic @Stadium.
“It’s strange; it’s definitely strange,” Rivers said. “It’s just different. After the game, or going to the game, Denver is getting on the bus; we’re getting on the bus. After the game, you see them getting off; we’re getting off. … Now, I’m doing an interview, and I’m seeing the Nuggets walk by. It’s really strange. “It’s funny, we’re not on top of each other, but I just think it’s abnormal—[the other day] players for both teams were going up in the elevator together. I was telling one guy, I don’t know if that’s even healthy. It’s a contentious game. I don’t know if I need to see that.”
“Every minute of every day,” Stevens said. “I mean, every single day. I do the same walking path every day. I call it ‘The Walk of Sanity,’ and I’ve found that a lot of other people do it, too. I saw Nick [Nurse] riding his bike out there, I see Spo [Erik Spoelstra of the Heat] all the time, I see Frank [Vogel] jogging. Doc’s whole staff. We all run into each other a lot.”
“I’ve enjoyed it in a weird kind of way, even seeing the other coaches,” Malone said. “Like Brad Stevens and I have had more conversations in the last 60 days than we’ve ever had because we’re down here and we’re in the same boat. It’s unique, and we’re trying to make the best of it.”
Marc J. Spears: William Rondo, bother of Lakers guard Rajon Rondo, is actually in charge of the barbers, braiders and manicurists in the bubble. Here is a @Espn @TheUndefeated video story on William Rondo. bit.ly/3hrDED8
Sam Amick: Protesters advocating for justice for 22-year-old Salaythis Melvin, who was fatally shot by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy last month, stood in front of our shuttle bus for 10 minutes or so before subsiding as we re-entered the bubble. One sign: “LeBron. Stand With Us.”
Duvalier Johnson: Michael Malone said that the bubble is not easy. “When you find yourself in elimination games, the easy thing to do would be to give up.” He went on to talk about the resiliency and the fight although it could’ve been easy to give up and head back to their families.
Most early mornings, a group of NBA officials walk the Loop together, with those same officials having also walked the Loop along with many Disney employees in support of the NBA players during their boycott. Bike rentals are available, and members of the Lakers' coaching staff race around the loop, as does Raptors coach Nick Nurse. Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth throws his headphones on and goes for fast walks. Clippers assistants Tyronn Lue and Sam Cassell walk in the searing Orlando heat hours before games.
Mornings and early afternoons are filled with dozens of NBA folks, all limited to the bubble, using the Loop to get in a run, take a brisk walk or jog, or ride bikes. What’s fascinating about the Loop is that rival coaches, or coaches and officials, are nearly guaranteed to cross paths because the circular route. “The thing is,” one NBA coach said, “if I see a guy coming in the opposite direction four or five times, how many times do I have to say hello to him?”
Ben Golliver: Raptors’ Kyle Lowry on his final thoughts on the NBA Bubble after Game 7 loss to Celtics: “It was challenging. It was well put together. We used our platform for our voices to be heard on social injustices... The Bubble was a success. Time to leave this motherf—-er.” pic.twitter.com/xhQBQ4HE84
Jonathan Feigen: NBA announces that Rockets F Danuel House Jr. is out for the remainder of the playoffs. League determined "House had a guest in his hotel room over multiple hours on September 8 who was not authorized to be on campus." No other staff members or players were deemed to be involved.
On Aug. 26, the night that the NBA shut down after the Milwaukee Bucks’ protest, laughter and singing echoed across Lago Dorado, the lake in the middle of Disney’s Coronado Springs resort. Amid the uncertainty of the season’s resumption following a tense players-led meeting, a group of players — the Balkan Boys, as they later called themselves — went to dinner on the outdoor patio at the Three Bridges Bar & Grill at Villa del Lago around 8 p.m. “It was a crazy night full of emotions,” the Heat’s Goran Dragić told The Athletic. “We didn’t know how it was gonna turn the next day.”
Dinner turned into drinks. Drinks turned into playing music from their phones while locking arms and belting Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian songs, including “Slavija” by Džej and “Ne Moze Nam Niko Nista” by Mitar Miric, seemingly every few minutes. They weren’t the only players unwinding by going out and eating and drinking in the bubble that night, but they were certainly the loudest. “We transformed the restaurant to a club,” Dragić said.
A second GM then chimed in on the same theme, sources said, echoing that the lack of travel and additional rest contributed to better play and helped even out the competition. Sources said a league official on the call then brought up the concept of teams heading into cities to play a potential series of games -- fly into a city and play the host team in two games over a short time span. The idea, which several GMs considered akin to a baseball homestand, was discussed in an effort to reduce the mileage teams might have to fly during the regular season.
When asked about this topic, Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey told ESPN that he wasn't yet sure what conclusions could be drawn from a unique situation. "I think there's a lot of data points that we really can't quantify yet," he added.
The concept of a baseball-like homestand does present financial challenges, such as trying to sell tickets to see the same two teams play over two or three nights. "In baseball, it's all about who's pitching and it's totally different every night," said one Eastern Conference GM. "Basketball could be the same game every night. How do you sell that from a ticket perspective? It's tough."
Since games began on July 30, several NBA general managers and team athletic training officials have noticed that the play looks crisp, players are moving up and down the court with speed, and there were top-notch performances almost every night even though teams were playing every other day at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. Though it is a small sample size, GMs and team staffers pointed to the same factor: the lack of travel. "Our guys feel better," one Western Conference GM told ESPN. "We don't know if it's anecdotal, but we've got these games and we don't have to jump on planes [afterward]."
They’re staying at the same Grand Destino Tower hotel at Coronado Springs. There’s not much to do, so they see each other near the same dining areas and at one of the lakeside restaurants players routinely visit. And the normal dislike of an opponent by the time a series reaches seven games is doubled by life inside the bubble. That is spilling out with minor rumpuses, verbal crossfire and accusations of bush-league antics as the teams prepare for Friday's Game 7.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse, as he bicycles, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens, as he walks, cross the same paths on their daily routines. Stevens calls it his “walk of sanity.” But how relaxing can it be when he’s constantly reminded of the series by seeing the opponent? “A lot of emotions, things like that swirling, etc. I ain’t really going to speak on it too much,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said. “It’s a lot of emotions, it’s an intense series. Things like that tend to happen. A lot of testosterone. Ain’t nothing to worry about. We’ve got to be ready to fight."
He was smiling when we caught up on a Zoom conversation after a Boston Celtics practice at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., where the N.B.A. is playing out its season because of the pandemic. He was smiling when we sat down after a Celtics practice in March, days before the coronavirus outbreak forced a postponement of the season. Even when describing his experience in quarantine at his home in Charlotte — his teammate Grant Williams stayed with him — he smiled about how much he enjoyed his time away. “I loved it,” Walker, 30, said. “It gave me a chance to slow down. As athletes, our lives move very fast. We don’t get much downtime or things of that nature until the summer.”
There were six students on the first day, said Dan O'Brien, NBPA director of sports medicine and research, who is helping oversee the school. The class size is slated to range from six to 12, a number that will remain fluid as teams are eliminated and as other family members might join the bubble at some point.
Classes are scheduled to be held Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., for students ages 3-7, and private tutoring lessons are available for those outside that age group. (There are roughly 20 players' children on campus, ranging in age from newborns to 14.) The class is being led by a teacher from the Orlando area along with a teacher's assistant.
The breakdown is pretty simple. Expenses for members of the news media are paid by the outlets they work for. Expenses for all the teams and most other campus residents (referees, league officials, game operations people, etc.) are covered by the league. It costs $550 per day for the reporters covering the N.B.A. restart. That figure includes lodging, three daily meals, transportation to game venues and practice sites and, of course, daily coronavirus testing. Room service meals and food orders from approved off-campus vendors, such as the supplier of my beloved French Dip sandwich, cost extra.
When you add up the reporters from independent outlets like The New York Times, both of the league’s media partners (ESPN and Turner) and the producers who accompany television reporters on their assignments, there are nearly 30 members of the news media on campus.
Fast forward to Monday, when, in two conjoined rooms on the campus, the NBPA's "Bubble School" held its first day of class for players' children. "We were just trying to make this environment as comfortable as possible for the players, and this was one huge part of it," said Joe Rogowski, the NBPA's chief medical officer and one of the main NBPA officials tasked with helping lead the project.
NBA coaches and staff have been approved to bring guests into the bubble for the start of the respective conference finals, according to a memo obtained by ESPN. Each team -- including head coaches, front office and staff -- can bring no more than 10 guests to the Disney campus beginning with 7-day on site quarantines, the memo said. Players guests began to arrive for the conference semifinals.
Guests - which must include family or longtime friends - would travel to Orlando either on a single plane or vehicle on Monday and begin a seven-day quarantine in Orlando, per the memo. Each guest - like others in the bubble - would undergo daily coronavirus testing. The admission of team staff guests is expected to be a topic for teams in the 2020-2021 season, too, sources said, with an expectation that there could need to be some sort of a bubble environment to initially start the season.
And when players are holed up in their room? Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, for one, has used that time to connect with mother Gloria, and his three children via Facetime, including his 16-year-old son Bronny, 13-year-old son Bryce and 5-year-old daughter Zhuri. "Family always comes first. Having that in your life, you have to put yourself in the position of what centers you," James said. "Meditating helps a lot for me personally with taking a lot of deep breaths, closing my eyes and just centering myself and listening to my inner self and talking to my kids and my mom. That definitely is something that keeps me sane in the bubble."
Therefore, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is one of several NBA coaches that stresses two messages. One, Stevens has told his players to "recognize how lucky we are to have a job and to have an opportunity to do that job." Two, Stevens encourages his players to enjoy the outdoors. Every morning, Stevens steps outside of the team hotel to take what he calls "the walk of sanity." "You feel isolated. We’re in a very small area. There’s only so much you can do," Stevens said. "But you do have to find time for yourself. You do have to make sure you’re taking care of yourself the best that you can. You can’t get holed up in your room all day, which is very easy to do."
Hayward returned to the bubble on Sunday after a couple of weeks home in Boston, but he has not been cleared to play and likely won't appear again unless the Celtics advance to the conference finals. Hayward originally planned to leave the bubble for the birth of his son sometime in September, but his wife, Robyn, posted a message on social media suggesting that now that he is back in Orlando, he's there to stay: "Next time we see you you won't be the only boy."
Chris Grenham: Brad Stevens says Gordon Hayward is back in the bubble and currently quarantining. "I haven't seen him because he's been in a room."
LeBron: "There’s nothing for them to do. I mean, I’ve got a 16-year-old. I mean, he’s going to sit in the bubble and do what? I’ve got a 13-year-old. He’s going to do what? Five-year-old girl, there’s nothing for her to do. The park isn’t open. I mean, there’s only so many times she can go to the pool. My kids are too adventurous, and they love to do so much stuff. It makes no sense for them to be here. There’s nothing for them to do here. Go outside. Come back in. Go outside. Come back in. They can stay in L.A., and they’re great. There’s literally nothing for them to do here. This is not a kid-friendly place. Let’s be honest."
Shams Charania: The NBA sent a memo to teams alerting medical staffs to be aware of increased risk of blood clotting (which can result in venous thromboembolism) associated with COVID-19.
Harrison Faigen: LeBron on why he didn't bring any of his three children to the bubble. "Because there's nothing for them to do... I mean there's only so many times (my daughter can go to the pool)... It makes no sense for them to be here. There's nothing for them to do here."
“We are fortunate the NBA bubble is here in Orlando, and have an opportunity to work directly with them,” Gilzean said. “The objective here is our community has access to find out where they are, where they stand, and can be safe and take care of their families. Bring awareness to the community for COVID-19 testing and also assist of slowing the spread of COVID-19 testing.” The NBA supplied the tests for the site.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has his full coaching staff with him in the NBA’s Disney bubble. Heat assistant coach Octavio De La Grana, who initially was not among those who traveled to the league’s quarantine campus for the resumption of the season, recently joined the team at Disney in Lake Buena Vista.
For much of the restart, from the seeding games into the playoffs, the topic of offensive efficiency has been high on the list of discussion topics. Despite a decline late in the seeding games, average game-level offensive rating rose by nearly a full point per 100 possessions for the participating teams, moving from 111.3/100 prior to the March shut down to 112.2/100 on campus. From a purely statistical standpoint, this increase was the result of gains in Effective Field Goal Percentages and Free Throw Rates more than offsetting a bump in overall Turnover Rates.
A number of theories have been floated as to why these were occurring: • Most prominently, simple variance based on the relatively small sample size of restart games. Though there was some regression toward season-long trends as the restart has progressed, certain aspects (notably the shooting and especially free throw rates) have largely maintained at least through the first round of the playoffs.
• Lack of travel meant more rested athletes who were thus more accurate shooters. I’ve posited this myself but wonder if this sort of explanation for shooting is too pat. Perhaps the increase in pace is more properly attributable to this.
• Cleaner shooting background due to smaller gyms. This theory is certainly plausible, but largely untestable without detailed tracking data.
• Decline in defensive cohesion due to the long layoff. If more defenders are running around out of scheme or are late on rotations, this could lead to more open shots and/or more fouls in desperate attempts to recover. This sounds plausible, but one would expect to see an increase in overall shot quality if defenses were playing substantially worse. But bubble shot quality is roughly equivalent to that found pre-shutdown.
• The lack of ambient sound has led to more “I heard it” foul calls than would be possible in a more standard environment. I credit this theory somewhat. We can see an increase in foul draw rates across the board, and across the range of shot zones:
Ben Golliver: Lakers’ LeBron James on being joined in the NBA Bubble by his wife Savannah: “It’s a blessing to have my wife here but my kids are back in LA still and my mom is back in Ohio. But I’m definitely happy she’s here. I keep the main thing the main thing when I’m on the floor.” pic.twitter.com/ZoHIpMvUBi
Adrian Wojnarowski: Via @NBA_Coaches : "The challenges of being away from family for so long can be overwhelming. NBCA discussions with league office are ongoing. We will continue to work with the NBA as partners to evaluate the viability of coaches' families coming to Orlando as more teams exit."
Tania Ganguli: This is the first game the Lakers have been able to have family and friends attend. There are about 16 guest. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, JaVale McGee, Jared Dudley, Alex Caruso, JR Smith and Devontae Cacok are scheduled to have guests here.
Tim MacMahon: NBCA Statement: "The challenges of being away from family for so long can be overwhelming. NBCA discussions with the league office are ongoing. We will continue to work with the NBA as partners to evaluate the viability of coaches' families coming to Orlando as more teams exit."
Ohm Youngmisuk: Michael Malone on coaches not allowed family to visit: "Players have their families here...referees are allowed 1 guest...coaches are not allowed anybody. Shame on you NBA. This is crazy. I miss my family..60 days + not granted privilege that my family come is criminal in nature"
Mirjam Swanson: Malone speaking on Murray's performance in the bubble & mentions this is "the hardest playoff environment that has ever existed." As Candace Parker said from the Wubble & Doc Rivers said there: This title doesn't deserve an asterisk, but an exclamation point, or a golden star.
It all sounded so breezy when the Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley arrived at Walt Disney World and promptly scoffed at the idea that working and living at one of the foremost playgrounds on Earth could somehow be complicated. The bubble, Beverley unforgettably declared that day, is what you make it. Nearly two months later, no one on the N.B.A.’s Disney campus can be that cavalier when talking about the surroundings. The league has managed to keep the coronavirus out, which undeniably is a significant achievement, but not without levying an emotional tax by severely restricting access.
Beverley’s first-glance view suggested that bubble inhabitants, with the right mind-set, could make this all seem as magical as a typical Disney trip. Now consider the review that the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James offered up Saturday night — after the league emerged from a three-day walkout during which numerous players gave serious thought to closing down the bubble completely. The near shutdown wasn’t motivated solely by the players’ social justice pursuits; also factoring in was the simple desire to return to the outside world. “I’ve had numerous nights and days of thinking about leaving,” James said. “I think everyone has, including you guys.”
James was referring to members of the news media and, without question, he was right. The word I have used to describe this assignment, over and over, is “unmissable.” That sentiment remains true, because I’m not sure I’ll ever have the chance again to cover N.B.A. playoff games in August and September in arenas without fans. But “interminable” also applies. I can’t deny that there have been times during my 52 days here that I tried to picture the finish line and couldn’t.
It’s not because of the workload. My role at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, leading ESPN’s coverage of the U.S. men’s basketball team for “SportsCenter” and ESPN.com, made for even longer days in some ways. What gets to you in the bubble is your lack of control, combined with the long-term isolation, all exacerbated by copious regulations and restrictions. So many rules to follow. So much time alone with your thoughts. An Olympic excursion, typically bucket list territory for most sportswriters, also lasts only three or four weeks.
According to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, teams that advance past the first round of the playoffs can reserve guest rooms that match the team's roster size. Although it does not specify an exact number of guests allowed, the protocols state the number is “subject to Disney’s room occupancy rules and guidelines.” A player can determine anyone a guest so long as that person is not a certified agent. Most of the players’ guests are either wives, girlfriends and their children. Players can invite only one guest to a game, but they are allowed to bring small children. “It'll just be good to be around some people that care about you, that you care about outside of your teammates,” Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams said. “This environment can be a little mundane at times, so it’s nice to have some fresh energy.”
Clippers center JaMychal Green plans to have his girlfriend and children visit should the team advance to the Western Conference finals. Yet, he still harbored concerns about his kids becoming stir-crazy on campus. People can swim, exercise, golf and fish on campus, but there are no options beyond those activities. Everyone also has to observe social distancing and mask-wearing rules. “I didn't want them to come here and get bored,” Green said. “My kids like to play and like to go outside. So there's really not much here to do.”
Usually, pets do not need to feel as entertained. They are used to quarantined life even in normal times. Unfortunately, they do not meet the criteria for guests. “I would love to have my dogs in here, but they are not allowing pets,” said Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green, whose fiancée will visit. “But I think pets would definitely lighten the mood. That would help if anybody who has any type of say-so to get some dogs in here.”
“It gets monotonous — I get it — but there’s definitely worse things in the world,” Orlando’s Michael Carter-Williams said. “To be honest, it’s kind of cool to say that I was part of history — to say that I was part of being in the bubble and part of protesting a playoff game.”
Where do you stand on the idea that playing games is a distraction away from everything that’s happening in the real world? Jared Dudley: I’ve always believed our voices are stronger and louder together. We’re doing this interview now because we’re playing. I have GQ doing an interview now just because of what’s going on. We’re not doing this interview if I’m at home. So it brings awareness. You hear VanVleet. You hear George Hill. You don’t know those names. The only names you hear when we don’t play are LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry. You don’t hear these role players. Jaylen Brown? I just saw Jamal Murray put his Breonna Taylor shoes on the chair. You don’t get that if we sit. And then there’s the money. People say ‘it’s not always about money’ but money helps change communities. It’s not everything but it’s a big piece of what’s going on.
“I can’t talk about my brother’s headspace,” Kostas continued. “I don’t think he’s ever been to the point of (wanting to leave), but obviously everybody has had a hard time in here. He just had a son, and he misses his son a lot. So he’s thinking about him every day, but when he gets an opportunity to hold him in his hands, teach him how to walk and stuff like that. “So he knows that that’s important to him. But he also knows that what he’s trying to accomplish with his team is important to him too. So I feel like he’s in the right headspace, and it’s gonna be alright.”
January 16, 2021 | 7:27 pm EST Update
Adrian Wojnarowski: Grizzlies star Ja Morant is a go tonight vs. Sixers, per team. Morant pushed hard through rehab on Grade 2 left ankle sprain, returning inside of three weeks.
Eric Woodyard: Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard on status of Caris LeVert: “As soon as we found this out, all eyes were trying to help Caris.” Pritchard says he has a magnetic personality. “This organization is going to step up,” he said. No timetable on his return.
Cayleigh Griffin: I asked Coach Silas pregame if there’s any hesitation sending his two way players to the G League Bubble in Orlando next month, with the situation we have tonight (8 available players). He said, in short, yes. But he’s hopeful they won’t have this many injuries moving forward…
Marc J. Spears: Hawks say Danilo Gallinari (right ankle sprain on Dec. 30) has progressed to half-court individual workouts and will now be re-introduced to contact activity. He will be listed as doubtful for Monday’s game vs. Minnesota.