Even if he never experienced the extended social isolation and monotonous schedule in the NBA campus bubble near Orlando, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love quickly became aware of the challenges other NBA players faced there. The reason? Love became a frequent confidant after speaking out in recent years on his personal journey with mental health. “‘I had a number of players in the bubble reach out to me and say, ‘I’m feeling helpless and hopeless that I can’t take care of myself, a family member or a friend,” Love told USA TODAY Sports. “I had a better feel for it.”
They began the season playing in empty arenas, taking daily COVID-19 tests and following strict protocols. Though players and coaches could return home and spend time with family in between practices and games, they could not attend large indoor or outdoor gatherings. Some of those restrictions have loosened once players became eligible to receive the vaccine in April. But players have still experienced burnout, while often playing games every other day. “That has been tough on sleep,” Love said. “That potentially has long-term effects on your body that can be bad. It might have even led to some of the injuries that have taken place, and some people getting sick.”
In the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers’ quick exit from this year’s postseason, Hall of Famer Charles Barkley is indicating that their NBA title win from last season isn’t legitimate. Barkley appeared on “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz” and made clear that the Lakers and their finals opponent from last season, the Miami Heat, should be treated as flukes because of the situation. “Listen, that bubble basketball,” Barkley said. “It was a bunch of bubble gangsters. That don’t count. Bubble gangsters don’t count.”
People who persistently test positive for COVID-19 after clinically recovering and adequately self-isolating are not likely to spread the virus to others, according to a new study that examined the NBA’s 2020 “bubble” in Orlando. After its season was interrupted by the pandemic last March, the NBA resumed its season in Orlando, Florida, as players were sequestered at Disney World to prevent against infections. Nearly 4,000 players, coaches, staff and vendors were tested daily for the coronavirus.
Should you have gone out and played looking back at it (playing in the Disney Bubble)? Gordon Hayward: It's a tough question. Physically, from a health standpoint? Absolutely not. I had no business being out there on the court at all. My injury was I think a lot more severe than people understood. Literally when I got back to the bubble I hadn't even run yet. So we were you know, yet the quarantine to so then you you have to take off like six or seven days of rehab, because I'm just in a hotel room and you know, they had a nice setup for that, you know, with with different things in there for me to do individually rehab, but there's no way that I'm going to do as good a job as anybody else.
There is certainly a sect of the NBA that is privately missing bubble life, even if no one enjoys the solitude of it. Numerous people of varying authority around the league have said in casual conversations with The Athletic that the way this season is playing out affects their feelings about returning to a bubble at some point, whether that’s at the end of the regular season or for the playoffs. Major League Baseball, for example, had a bubble in San Diego for the American League playoffs and one in Arlington, Texas, for the National League playoffs and the World Series.
In a recent episode of the 'All That Smoke' Podcast with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox was asked about the NBA’s bubble experience. While he gave props to the league for doing their best to create an atmosphere that allowed the season to continue, that doesn’t mean that he would be on board to do it all over. “That experience was terrible,” Fox said. “I never want to have to do anything like that again.”
When practices opened during the NBA’s “bubble” in July, George said his discomfort from playing on two surgically repaired shoulders had gone away and that he felt like himself again. But he said he struggled to adapt to other challenges presented by the isolated Disney World campus — the distance from family as well as the lack of energy in the fan-free arenas — he told podcast co-hosts Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. “You FaceTiming your family, you FaceTiming your kids. At some point you start to break, and it’s like, man, what am I doing here?” he said. “Like, this ain’t it right here. I understand we’re trying to win the championship and that’s the focus, but everything gotta line up for that to happen. … My hat’s off to the Lakers for being able to accomplish that, but myself, I struggled with it.”
Ira Winderman: Avery Bradley, on bypassing Lakers' playoff title run, "It was really hard for me. It was hard. It was tough . . . The championship game, my hands were sweating." Said he spoke regularly through the bubble with Rob Pelinka.
House spoke Wednesday at Toyota Center, where he and other players are starting training camp activities for the upcoming 2020-21 season. In a virtual media availability session, House said the following: I’d like to start off by apologizing to my team, the organization, and the owner for the mishap that happened in the bubble. I’m focused. It’s behind me. It’s in the past. New year, new season. I’m learning, and I’m looking forward to growing and expanding. I’d like to deeply apologize to the fans, also. If you felt I let you down, sincere apologies from me, Danuel House Jr., to everyone.
GQ: Financially, how dire would the consequences have been if the season had to be canceled? Adam Silver: I mean, I wouldn't use the word dire, only because I tend to look at our business over a longer-term horizon. Even though we had an opportunity, of course, to restart the season, the financial implications are still pretty traumatic. The players will still take a significant pay cut, and most of our teams will also lose significant amounts of money—not just from their NBA team but [also from their] arenas and all of those nights that have remained dark. Again, I'm trying to take a longer-term perspective and with a recognition that this too shall pass, whether it takes another six months for a vaccine to be widely distributed or it takes another year to get back up and running. Meanwhile, we're watching what's happening around the world. For example, we have Game 4 of the Finals taking place on Tuesday night in Orlando. So on Wednesday morning in Shanghai, in fact, there is a viewing party at an arena where they're going to have 5,000 fans, and they're comfortable doing that. They have protocols for doing that.
For example, every day at 5 a.m., inside room 950 in the Gran Destino (where all the top-seeded teams stayed), Masai Ujiri would wake up, read his book, hop on the Peloton, and work out before heading down for breakfast. He thought nothing of his daily ritual until one morning, several weeks into the bubble, when he got a text from another former player of his: “Morning boss, you good up there?” The text was from Kawhi Leonard—Finals MVP with the Raptors, now a star on the Clippers—who was staying in room 850, directly below his old boss. Ujiri had been waking Kawhi up with his noisy workouts for weeks, but Kawhi was reluctant to say anything.
Ujiri told Kawhi that he would stop for the time being and joked that he would continue again when the Raptors met the Clippers in the Finals, messing with Kawhi's sleep. Kawhi responded with the kind of trash talk that's best read aloud in Kawhi's dry monotone: “Haha, you know the saying ‘Don't poke the bear’? I'm gonna call the NBA on you…get you out the bubble.”
“Some don't really know how serious that can be,” Morant says when I ask him how hard it was to be confined in the bubble. “And, you know, a lot of people want to make jokes and stuff until they actually go through it.” Chris Paul, the head of the NBA players' association and a 15-year veteran, said he similarly struggled with being away from his family, especially when he missed his daughter's eighth birthday. “You ever seen on social media the thing that says, ‘Make sure you check on your strong friends’?” Paul asks me. “A lot of times, it's the guys who may seem like they got everything together, you know? For me, shoot—I needed somebody to talk to at times.”
They will not be playing once a week, as teams do in the N.F.L. They will not be playing a sport with baked-in social distancing, à la Major League Baseball. They will be playing a game teeming with contact and face-to-face interactions — and, unlike in football, baseball and soccer, they will be playing it indoors. “The N.B.A. pulled off a really elegant experiment with the bubble, and I would be the first to say that I had reservations that they were going to be able to pull off what they did,” said Dr. T.O. Souryal, a former president of the N.B.A. Physicians Association who worked as the Dallas Mavericks’ team doctor for more than 20 years. “That’s fantastic.”
Teams also had no way of ensuring that their players were actually working out on their own, so there was some concern that players would return out of shape and be at increased risk for an injury. Also, several trainers pointed out that it had been difficult for players to mimic what they do in games while training individually. However, a new study by Dimitrije Curcic of RunRepeat.com actually found that there were significantly fewer injuries in the NBA bubble. In the bubble, there were 89 seeding games played. In order to compare the number of injuries in the seeding games to the start of a typical season, Curcic analyzed the first 89 games of each of the past five seasons to see how many injuries occured.
Health officials around the NBA have expressed concern for how to prepare players for a potential 72-game regular season with a training camp that starts on Dec. 1, less than a month away -- especially for the teams that haven't played games since March and the two conference champions. "It's going to be especially challenging to not only get ready to play Dec. 22 or whatever but to maintain that for a period of four or five months," said one head athletic trainer of a Western Conference team, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity. "This is going to be another period of unchartered territory. As unchartered as the [Orlando] bubble was [this summer], this is the bubble times three or four or five [because we're] trying to extend it to that period of time with a minimal ramp-up."
"I'd be more worried about travel, because we saw in the bubble, not having travel really helped guys recover," said one official intimately involved with player health. "So I don't know if it's actually the amount of games (72), but it's just the fact that you're getting to 2 a.m. in the morning and you're traveling now -- that becomes a bigger issue."
In terms of conditioning, several health officials said they were hopeful that teams would be able to return to game-shape in a three-week ramp-up, particularly if they followed the same blueprints as when they had a similar timeline before the Orlando bubble. But they also pointed out that they would have to build up a stronger base of conditioning and strength to last for the 72-game slate, especially and in order to stave off soft-tissue injuries that de-conditioned players tend to suffer, such as hamstring strains.
Jared Dudley: This is true for the teams that made it to the 2nd round and beyond.. Teams will have to be careful with the ramp up in training camp and the first 4/6 weeks of the season... NBA should look out for those teams schedule wise early in the yr.
Dan Woike: Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was announced Monday as part of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team was also a member of the medical team who helped orchestrate the NBA’s Orlando bubble. He served as surgeon general under Barack Obama.
Anadolu Efes forward Chris Singleton believes that NBA players who were complaining about the living conditions during the Orlando bubble didn’t actually have anything serious to complain about, save for being away from their families. And this was nothing in comparison to what overseas U.S. players like him have to deal with year by year. “I think that we might see offense with when some people in the NBA… we hear all these comments when they were in the bubble,” Singleton said to Aris Barkas and Cosmote TV.
“When you read, when you get the chance to look at all the stuff they actually had in the bubble. It’s like… I don’t know what you are complaining about,” Singleton added. “You just have to stay somewhere for three months or whatever and then that’s it. You’re playing basketball every other day. You’re getting five-star meals. The pictures they showed at the beginning… I don’t know if they were the best. But after that, they had gourmet meals.”
But elite players are outliers; they’ll be great next season, too, no matter when it starts, whether games are again played without fans or if teams spend part of all of the year in another bubble. Most of the rest of the league is still deciphering what it saw from its players in Orlando. “Especially, to me, it was obviously for everybody, a very unique challenge,” said Magic coach Steve Clifford, whose team lived on the Disney campus during the restart and playoffs, by his estimation, 55 or 56 days. “I was really happy with our guys,” he said. “Going down there, let’s face it, you just don’t know. Are guys going to get homesick? Are they going to struggle mentally because of the restrictions? We practiced a lot better than I’d hoped for, to be honest with you. Until we took the injuries.
“We played Brooklyn the first game, and I was watching the film and I was saying, ‘We can really make some progress in these next couple of weeks.’ Then Jonathan (Isaac) went down and Michael Carter-Williams went down and Aaron Gordon went down. … It’s just part of this league. But I was really pleased with the way we practiced. “The injuries obviously impacted us, but I thought we hung in there. We played much better as time went on. In the playoff series, with the guys we had available, I was proud of how we played. And there’s things to build on. It was great for Markelle (Fultz) to play against Eric Bledsoe.”
Player compliance was consistent and self-enforced; as good as TMZ is at finding the most compromising and unflattering pictures of celebrities, there was not a single Instagram or similar social media post showing NBA players flouting the rules while on the compound. “I was walking back to my room,” National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts recalled, “and I saw a player walk out. He was on the phone. And he said, ‘Oh, s--- — I forgot my mask.’ And he went literally running back inside. And I don’t think it’s because he saw me, at all — he was really engaged in his phone conversation. But at some point, it just hit him he didn’t have his mask on.”
“It’s impossible for everybody to test the way we tested,” said the head athletic trainer of a team in the bubble. “Getting tested every day, it’s great. It makes you feel safe. I don’t think there was probably a safer place on the planet. There were hand sanitation stations every six feet. They were handing out Clorox wipes and individual hand sanitizer baskets every few steps. You found them everywhere. So they made it easy by what we would say in regular society, now, is best practice: using hand sanitizer, wash your hands, wear a mask, do all those things that aren’t being done. So, for us, being in the bubble, to carry out of that, it’s easier for us to do that and realize the importance of it — even for people that might not have agreed on how important it was. I think it’s kind of built into your brain.”
The NBA bubble in Orlando recouped $1.5 billion in revenue that would've been lost without restarting the season, sources said. Expenses for the bubble were $190 million -- $10 million more than originally estimated, sources said.
Ryan McDonough: There is a thought with some people I've talked to that said, "Well, obviously it was great that we finished the season, that everybody's safe and healthy. But man, I was away from my family for three months and looking at football, looking at baseball, which have not been perfect. They've had outbreaks, you know, which is obviously significant. But did we overdo this thing? You know, did we need to do all that?"
As he kicked back at home, audio technicians from a Red Hook-based company worked feverishly, operating elaborate equipment to produce crowd noises, attempting to convey the emotions of a would-be audience while synchronized with the action on the court. In doing so, they helped create a virtual reality of sorts, one in which viewers seldom were reminded of what was missing. “From home, the sounds made it feel like a regular game in an arena,” said Justin Cooper of Pine Plains, a former college basketball standout who now coaches the sport. “I’m sure for the players it was great to have some type of noise, so it didn’t seem like they were just playing in an empty space.”
In each of the three Wide World of Sports arenas that hosted games, a 10-channel immersive sound system with 130 speakers was installed to produce sounds around the court. That was for the players’ benefit, to mimic a typical in-game atmosphere. A separate audio system was fed into the television broadcast for the viewers. “When we went online and put the sound onto the court, we started quietly,” Dittmar said. “But, soon, the players were like, ‘Turn that up. We like it.’” The sound producers worked in teams of four with an NBA game director, an arena disc jockey and two technicians called “sweeteners,” who operated the sound boards.
HBO Sports has boarded Imagine Documentaries and Fuqua Films feature documentary The Day Sports Stood Still about the unprecedented sports shutdown in March of 2020 and the remarkable turn of events that followed.
At the center of the film will be the first-person account of NBA All-Star and NBA Players Association president, Chris Paul. An executive producer on the project, Paul, the point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, will relive his entire experience from being in the middle of the first game to be stopped on March 11, 2020 against the Utah Jazz, to suddenly living in quarantine, to his crucial role in helping re-open the NBA safely to playing in “the bubble.”
Portland Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey met with our Trail Blazers Insider Dwight Jaynes over Zoom to discuss the success of the NBA bubble: “The league did an unbelievable job. I think more than anything, everybody talks about the lifestyle, but the feeling of safety was so comforting there. The league did an outstanding job of making sure everybody in that bubble knew, everybody there was as compliant as one another in terms of the safety protocols. We were tested everyday, we all dealt with the best practices when it came to making sure we wore our PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], we socially distanced, we were only around each other outside within six feet.”
Neil Olshey: “From that standpoint, that was the biggest adjustment was actually - people haven’t talked about - is leaving the bubble. Leaving the bubble was a major adjustment going back into stores, being in the community, being at home, knowing where the risks are.“
Revenue projections for the league this season were missed by about $1.5 billion, the person said. The losses were the result of a combination of factors — the shutdown caused by the pandemic, the cancelation of 171 regular-season games, completing the season in a bubble at Walt Disney World without fans, the nearly $200 million price tag for operating that bubble and a yearlong rift with the Chinese government that saw NBA games not shown on state television there.
The NBA spent $180 million to operate 100 days of basketball in its Disney bubble, but the steep investment allowed the league to stop the loss of $1.5 billion in projected revenue. According to sources familiar with the league’s finances, the Disney restart allowed the NBA to stem the loss of about $1.5 billion in expected revenue, the bulk of the money tied to national and local television revenue followed by league sponsorships.
“Without a doubt, it was worth it,” said one executive from a Disney bubble team of the massive effort and investment needed to complete the longest season in NBA history. The season began Oct. 22 of last year and finally ended on Oct. 11 when the Los Angeles Lakers won Game 6 of the NBA Finals to secure their record-tying 17th title.
Marcus Smart: I was totally ready for it to suck, I’m not gonna lie. But you know what? The bubble, it actually turned out to be … pretty damn great. Not the food, necessarily, or the atmosphere, or us not winning the whole thing in the end, but just the actual bubble part of it — the quiet. I wasn’t expecting it, but after only four or five days down in Orlando, I realized that the bubble was a blessing, because it gave me the opportunity for some genuine downtime. Lots of stuff I had to worry about before — family drama, promotional stuff, places I had to be at such and such time — that was all out the window. I could actually just sit there alone and….
The COVID-19 pandemic did prevent him from entering the NBA bubble in Orlando. He was forced to watch the last part of the season from his 50-acre avocado ranch. “Oh, that hurt … but I understood it,” Bertka said. “You’re allowed only a certain number of people in the bubble. And at the age of 93, I’m a pretty good candidate for the virus. I do thank God each and every day for the health I’ve been given during the 93 years I’ve been here. I try to stay active, do a lot of workouts in the pool, and try to walk around my property as much as I can. I just want to keep my heart and lungs and brain going. The secret is to keep moving.”
Danilo Gallinari: 🏀 The season is officially over, the longest in #NBA history. We all have to congratulate the @NBA for the entire plan and the creation of "The #Bubble". An environment safe for us all, to play basketball and to end the season. A big result for the organization! pic.twitter.com/UPBmGYgtlu
“When I first got here and all the teams were here, it was all the way live,” Roberts said. “We could not not run into players and have conversations with them. “For the first couple of weeks, I was kind of digging it.” But as the days began to pile up, so did the exhaustion. Then the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., pushed everyone over the edge. After the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play, players gathered to figure out what to do. After intense meetings, players from all over the league, including some of its biggest stars, gathered outside to smoke cigars and drink, a desperately needed escape.
“But you know what, it was just crazy. You see Paul George hit the side of the backboard, Kawhi not having that, but those boys, they didn’t want to be in the bubble. They didn’t want to be there, and I don’t blame them for certain times, but the world needed to see the Clippers and the Lakers and it was unfortunate we didn’t get to see that.”
Today, Silver is relieved. “We knew going into the bubble that there were lots of things that could go wrong, and it required an enormous amount of good fortune to ultimately conclude the season without any positive cases -- not only without any positive cases but actually make it to crowning a champion,” Silver said. Throughout the restart, he carried enormous worry on two fronts. “What kept me up most,” he said, “were the daily test results and concern whether organizationally and collectively we would have the discipline to fight through this virus over a three-month period.”
Kelly Flatow does not have a background in city planning. But the NBA’s executive vice president of global events built a basketball city. From getting practice courts shipped from Horner Flooring in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to making sure hair stylists and barbers were on campus, to providing activities like golf and fishing, to procuring different kinds of drinking water -- Flatow was responsible. “The most important part of pulling everything together was the collaboration,” Flatow said. “With every event and program we do around the world, it is a cross-functional effort, but in this case, it was hyper-sensitive collaboration in terms of making sure we looked at it from every angle. We had so many logistical challenges that we had never faced before from a health and safety perspective.”
With regularity during the NBA’s hiatus, the Dallas Mavericks' Powell hopped on a call with Silver and fellow players -- Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. The small working group – a cross-section of different levels of player status – had open and honest discussions about what was at stake and what players needed if the league were to resume the season in a bubble. It was a forum for those players to learn what the league was thinking and discuss health, safety and financial ramifications. “Through the process of talking with those guys on those calls, I really got to see just how many people were involved and how many minds were working in overdrive to find solutions to problems that were really coming up every day,” Powell said. "Every single step of the process had to be thought out, because it’s people’s lives that were at stake at the end of the day.”
Ninety days after I checked into the NBA’s restrictive bubble at Disney World, I find myself with a recurring daydream: I slide into the back seat of an airport-bound black car and begin stripping off my encumbrances. I remove my MagicBand, which grants access to my hotel room, the arena and the practice facilities, from my right wrist. Next I ditch my tattered credential, which I wear around my neck at all times to ward off inquiries from security guards. I take off my Kinexon proximity alarm, which beeps like a smoke detector anytime I linger within six feet of another person. Then I slide my Oura tracking ring, which monitors my temperature in real time, off my right middle finger. Finally, I delete a health tracking app, which requires me to input my temperature and blood oxygen level every morning, from my iPhone.
The bubble opened with an overwhelming rush of media interest that mostly consisted of morbid curiosity and rubbernecking. I did countless interviews about my seven-day quarantine inside a hotel room, and everyone asked about what would happen if someone got sick or died. Once it became clear that the NBA’s stringent health protocols were working, the ambulance chasers moved on.
Now, physical and mental exhaustion reign, and it has become clear that the bubble was meant for die-hards. Two of the league’s most prominent workout maniacs — LeBron James and Jimmy Butler — are going head-to-head in an unpredictable and fiercely contested NBA Finals. It’s fitting that James’s Los Angeles Lakers and Butler’s Miami Heat are the last teams standing after a months-long war of attrition. Either will be worthy champions, and there should be no talk of an asterisk.
The bubble humanized the players. The walls of fame in the outside world — sunglasses, tinted windows, security details, community gates — were less pronounced in this environment. Their hotels were off-limits to the media, but players were stuck dealing with reporters almost every day. The coaches and superstars shouldered a heavy media burden well. When James said he had spent “numerous nights and days thinking about leaving the bubble,” he received a round of knowing nods from the small group of reporters.
I will remember the bubble fondly, but I won’t miss much. I loved the courtside seats and the wildlife around campus. I photographed alligators, egrets, snakes, anhingas, hawks, raccoons, armadillos, deer, frogs, turtles, butterflies, dragonflies, geckos, snails and Florida-size bugs. I cherished my ability to attend every single playoff game from the start of the second round, something that might never again be possible. I enjoyed seeing the referees compete at morning pickleball like it was their own professional sport. The daily testing was the ultimate privilege.
When the Milwaukee Bucks staged an impromptu walkout of their game against the Orlando Magic in response to the Jacob Blake shooting, James again spoke with friends and advisers late into the night. He supported the Bucks and the cause, but the lack of planning and strategy was frustrating. Those close to him say now that James was very close to walking away from the season that night. What changed everything was when he and Paul got on the phone with former President Barack Obama. Before he was president or a senator, Obama was a community organizer. His words late that night drew on that experience: Get something for this. Push the NBA, push the owners, push society to do more.
The next morning James, Paul and the Heat's Andre Iguodala went about getting firm commitments from the league and owners on three initiatives: establishing a social justice coalition, using arenas as voting locations and including advertising spots in each playoff game to create greater civic engagement in national and local elections. Then James and the Lakers resumed their season.
Shams Charania: In recognition of efforts during a historic season, NBA commissioner Adam Silver informed league employees in “Thank You” letter that they are all receiving a $1,000 bonus and four Fridays off beginning Oct. 30 as well as Thanksgiving week.
Eddie Johnson: The @NBA Adam Silver has proven to be the best leader in the country since the Corona Virus! Adam did one simple thing, he listened to the scientists and the Players agreed to stay in a bubble locked down for 90 days with 0 positive tests! My word Listen to Science Washington!
Robinson said it has taken a village, and that the commitment of those in the league to see it through speaks to how much the NBA has prioritized safety and health while completing a schedule amid a pandemic. “They’ve been here pretty much a hundred days, as well,” he said. "So all that sacrifice, we certainly owe it to them. The forward thinking of the league to really be the first to kind of have this idea, and then to actually follow through with it from an execution standpoint, has been really impressive.”
Siakam, whose meteoric rise was culminated by his first All-NBA selection this season, also endured notable struggles. With his increased responsibilities came increased scrutiny, and his postseason play (17.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 39% shooting) fell well below the regular-season standards he had set in 2019-20. Opposing players and coaches who have since left the bubble noted privately that Siakam seemed particularly out of sorts in Orlando, both on and off the floor.
While in the bubble, Nurse spoke openly of the angst his players and coaches and front-office personnel experienced being away from their families for so long. But it wasn't until he attempted to reacclimate to his daily life that he completely understood the gravity of the disconnect. Nurse's 3-year-old son, Leo, solemnly vowed to remain at the door, waiting, when Nurse departed for Orlando in July. His son Rocky, who was born during his father's magical Finals run last June, was too young to articulate anything. "When I got back home," Nurse said, "the kids were in the neighborhood playing. Leo saw me from the top of the hill and did a dead sprint into my arms for a 5½-minute hug. But when I grabbed Rocky, he looked at me like, 'Hey man, put me down. Who are you?'"
And if an athletic trainer, coach or inactive player isn't wearing their mask properly during the game, league security will walk over to their huddle during a timeout and correct them. It is the pesky rules that make the bubble possible. And several league executives have noted that players and coaches who have been eliminated and left the bubble have called and texted to say that they miss the safety of the campus.
When NBA officials worked with folks on the ground in Orlando, Florida, during the planning stages for the bubble, there was a central question, according to Dunlap: "What can we offer these guys for several months so they're not going crazy in their rooms?" Various outdoor entertainment options were lined up. Fishing was a hit. Pickleball became a daily pastime for referees. Cornhole boards and oversize Connect Four games were placed by the pool. Perhaps the most popular activity throughout, however, has been bike riding. "Our fleet has grown," Dunlap said, detailing how the resort beefed up its bicycle haul by bringing in 10-speed bikes from an outside vendor to have about 50 available to its temporary residents.
Through the Denver Nuggets' playoff run, they would sign out a dozen bikes at a time and go on team rides. "I don't know if they would do it for conditioning or just to relax," Dunlap said. When players' families arrived, the resort made sure there were baby seats available to rent. Dunlap estimated that most days 100 percent of the bikes were signed out -- leading to competition for resources.
That is where the ownership groups for both the Lakers and Heat -- as well as additional guests for each team -- have spent the past week during the NBA Finals. At a hotel near Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, these two competing sides -- like the teams that also are sharing the bubble -- find themselves awkwardly close together for the duration of the series. "It's beyond words," said Bernie Lee, the agent for Heat star Jimmy Butler. "I'm sitting and having lunch with [Miami president Pat Riley] and [general manager Andy Elisburg]," Lee said, "and 10 feet away from us is the entire Laker leadership."
Salman Ali: The Houston Rockets have raised nearly $100,000 for COVID-19 relief since May. They plan on auctioning off unique memorabilia from their time in the Orlando bubble including game-worn jerseys, shorts, and shoes from Eric Gordon, James Harden, P.J. Tucker, and Russell Westbrook.
Tim Bontemps: Doc Rivers on what happened with the Clippers: "This year, let's just start with COVID. This has been a tough year for everybody. The bubble is not a normal experience, but I'm glad it's an experience the NBA created. We wouldn't be crowning a champion this year without it."
Marc Stein: Adam Silver on @NBATV: "Nobody's tested positive who lives on this campus, but we've had positive tests in our vicinity ... We still have another week or so to go before we can really say we did it. Every night ... I am sort of (braced) for that call to say, 'We have an issue' "
Spruell was responsible for overseeing the development of the league’s competitive format of 22 teams, which included individual workouts at team facilities, travel to the bubble, team practices, scrimmages, seeding games, postseason play-in games and the traditional playoffs. He led orientation sessions with players, head coaches and staff from all 22 participating teams and the officiating staff. And he said he has had well over 100 meetings over the past several months, including with all 30 NBA general managers, representatives from the players association and the competition advisory group. Spruell, who is third in command behind commissioner Adam Silver and incumbent deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, was also the highest-ranking NBA official on-site when the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not play in a playoff game on Aug. 26 to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in their state of Wisconsin. The Bucks’ decision resulted in the other remaining teams not playing over three days.
What has been your biggest triumph? Byron Spruell: The play-in tournament, if I’m being honest with you. We had gone through a lot of planning on the future of the game and what certain elements would look like. Reseeding, different ways to look at conference realignment, all those things. And one of those things that was in that sort of future of the game, if we could get it done, was a play-in tournament. So, to see that sort of come back around and to be part of this and be historic in terms of the first one and the way it played out with the [Portland] Trail Blazers … that was pretty cool, knowing the backdrop.
In the history of basketball, I think this NBA bubble is an inflection point. I was wondering what you've made of it as a former player and as a viewer. Scottie Pippen: Well, I'm going to be honest. It's not NBA basketball. It's not the hard grind. It's not the travel. It's not the fans. It's not the distractions. Really, to me, it's pickup basketball. It's going to the gym. Yeah, you already got your team. Y'all practicing together. But it's a more of a pickup type of basketball game, because there's no fans in the stands. So there is no distraction. There's no real noise. There's no pressure on the players, you know. Prime example: I looked at Rondo. Rondo ain't made three pointers in his whole NBA career. Now, all of a sudden, he's in a bubble, he's probably a 50% three point shooter. I haven't even checked the stats.
Scottie Pippen: But that's just something that I consider making the game so easy, because Rondo can't score inside of an arena, when you got depth perception. Like, there's a whole lot of things that make the NBA hard. The bubble makes the NBA easy to me. There's no travel. That's the killer itself. So you're sleeping in the same bed every night. You're walking to the gym. You're not having to go with a 25 to 50 minute bus ride to an arena. You're not having to probably even sit in the arena for two hours before the game, talk to the media, deal with all the outside stuff that they're trying to pull you in to make some distraction and, you know, throw the team in a loop. So it's a different game, but it's very entertaining.
Silver, who has managed to maintain such strong ties with the NBA’s player community throughout his tenure that began in Feb. 2014, left his seat to go pay a visit to the NBPA executive director who has been here in the bubble since the very beginning, Michele Roberts. As Silver kneeled down next to Roberts as she sat in her folding chair, the mutual respect between them was unmistakable. They hugged, with Silver putting both of his hands into the handshake as they shared a laugh. It was only a minute or so, but it was telling.
Yet Williams ushered it through from start to finish, despite skepticism throughout much of Disney. Williams then oversaw the complex during its early years, helping it become successful. “His role can’t be underestimated,” says CBS Sports football analyst Charles Davis, who worked at the Wide World of Sports from 1996-2000, first as a manager tasked with bringing business to the complex. “To me, without Reggie, none of this ever happens.
Kyle Goon: Adam Silver said in May, when he talked about putting together a bubble with Disney exec Bob Iger, he thought it was a "pipe dream," and he resisted it for a time because he didn't think it could work and it wasn't his idea.
Doug Smith: Adam Silver singles out three players for making the bubble work: Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and Dwight Powell. There are many others but those were the players he mentioned in pre-Finals media session
Brad Townsend: Silver: "There are 6,500 people in this community in Orlando who have been servicing this complex." He compares it to the credits you see after a movie, the people involved in making the movie happen.
Mirjam Swanson: Frank Vogel says 85 days in the bubble -- "a remarkable setup" -- "has not been harder than I thought it would be ... I miss my family dearly, but I really enjoy the group of guys we have. It's been all basketball -- which is just fine with me." Says winning helps, too.
Ken says he has talked to son Kelly on the phone about the whole ‘bubble’ playoff experience. “[Kelly] says it’s been great for the team to build chemistry and bring the team together. He says the teams that are the toughest mentally are the ones doing well. Disney World is right out their window, of course they can’t go. They are just focused on the job,” Ken added.
Tatum, who welcomed all 22 teams to Disney World with orientation sessions in July and has lived in the bubble for the past two weeks, similarly had no interest in a victory lap. “We’ve been able to demonstrate a model for how you could operate a business successfully in the pandemic,” Tatum said in a telephone interview Monday. “We’re very proud of that. We’re excited to get where we are, but we still have work to do. The virus is so unpredictable that we can’t have anybody let their guards down. That’s important for us to collectively reinforce. We’re trying to crown an NBA champion, and we have one more series to go. We owe it to the teams, the players, the staff and the employees who have sacrificed so much. We’ve continued to be vigilant.”
Their war of attrition continues as the bubble around them shrinks. According to league figures, the campus at full capacity received 700 incoming packages per day at its distribution warehouse and needed at least 115 charter buses and vans to transport players, media members and staffers. In total, bubble attendees accounted for approximately 106,000 hotel room nights and went on at least 525 guided lake fishing trips, while players and coaches participated in more than 3,600 virtual media interviews.
But the party is winding down. The Lakers’ elimination of the Nuggets ended TNT’s coverage of the playoffs and prompted a boisterous poolside shindig that lasted past 4 a.m. With fewer games to officiate, the deep referee corps has dwindled. The on-site barbers report that business remains brisk: They have far fewer clients, but the remaining players stop by more frequently because they want to look their best for the larger television audiences watching the biggest games.
The enormousness of the task was incomprehensible. The league would build a campus outside of Orlando at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World to host 22 NBA teams and hundreds of others for as long as four months. That campus would need to abide by airtight medical protocols to prevent the invasion of the most aggressive pandemic in a century. It also would need to provide an infrastructure to accommodate a massive basketball operation that normally exists across nearly two dozen state-of-the-art training facilities. Official regular-season games resumed on July 30, but the true restart of the season took place more than a month before, as the league hurried to construct this city.
Kelly Flatow, the executive vice president and head of events at the NBA and a 10-year veteran of the league, has organized some of the biggest spectacles in sports, including the league's All-Star Weekend. But the so-called bubble resides in an entirely different logistical universe for an entirely different length of time under an entirely unprecedented amount of scrutiny.
The health and medical specifications were priority No. 1 for the league. Players and team staff would spend two days quarantined in their hotel rooms and be tested for the virus daily. A precious few essential personnel would have access to the playing court. But in addition to adherence to the strict protocols, the success and execution of the remainder of the season and playoffs would depend on hundreds of granular tasks.
The latest guest on Load Management was Kevin Garnett. You may have missed or mentally filed away the post from earlier but, hey, fortunately there's no expiration here. Amongst several topics discussed (more on that in a sec) the NBA legend talked about, as ex-players often do, the generational difference of today's game versus the era in which he played. More relevantly to 2020, he said that his generation couldn't have handled the league's current bubble because things were just a little more heated in his day.
"To be honest y'all, we could never play in the bubble," Garnett said. "You know how much I've been screaming during your shot 'Get that shit out of here'? You could've heard me in here. Man they'd of had a bunch of censors. Couldn't have all these cameras, you know, players walking around naked, balls swinging all type thing. That's a different league. We were men, yo."
From there he continued on the theme of how things would've been more entertaining combustible if the pandemic had hit a little earlier. "We out here talking to each other," he went on. "We trying to figure out the pick and roll. We ain't switching, you know, it was just totally different. It [would have] been barbaric. We could have never been in a situation like this. It would've been chaotic (...) It would've been very difficult to put my timing and the guys that I played with and against into a bubble like this and have us not be like — we was high competitors. Everybody's competing. Everybody's damn near fighting every other play."
Katy Winge: Guys I just watched a video of one of the Nuggets’ assistant coach’s instagrams...the team arrived back in Denver and all the kids and families were there with signs to greet them and hug them after 80+ days and I don’t know who is cutting onions but they won’t stop
Harrison Wind: Michael Malone pregame on being in the bubble: "I feel like Bill Murray. I wake up and it's Groundhog Day, the same thing over and over again."
Tim Reynolds: If you’re wondering if the conference finals and NBA Finals will have trophy ceremonies after clinches, the NBA says they will. How they’ll compare to past years, with most team executives and others who’d be part of such moments not “in the bubble,” I have no idea.
On Tuesday, the NBA scored a lot of points with fans of animal rescue. During Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, the broadcast cut to 28 dogs and two kittens and their fosters filling virtual courtside seats, with an announcement that they were all “100% adoptable and 100% adorable” and a link to learn more about adopting them. The pets are being fostered by families around the country for Best Friends Animal Society and the nonprofit’s rescue partners.
June 24, 2021 | 9:18 pm EDT Update
Tim MacMahon: Sources: Mavs have offered Nike executive Nico Harrison a front office leadership position. Dallas wants him to work in tandem with Michael Finley. Harrison and Finley are both close with Jason Kidd, who is expected to be the Mavs’ next head coach.
According to league sources, the Cavaliers have begun to explore trade options involving leading scorer Collin Sexton. Sexton, 22, is extension-eligible this summer, averaged 24.3 points per game last season, and appears likely to seek a maximum contract. Also eligible for an extension is 23-year-old center Jarrett Allen, who is also expected to command a lucrative deal.
Based on some of the chatter I heard over the course of this season, there was enough love for Cade Cunningham atop the draft that he felt easy to pencil in, regardless of who won the lottery. That no longer appears to be the case. In addition to Cunningham, league sources expect USC’s Evan Mobley and G League Ignite’s Jalen Green to receive serious consideration from the Pistons’ front office, led by general manager Troy Weaver. The strong sense I’ve gotten is that Detroit will explore all its options before committing one way or another, and that the decision on who to take is far from a done deal.
Wrapping up with some minutiae: as it turns out, the Pistons and Cavaliers got lucky twice on lottery night. The way the lottery works is that the league draws combinations for the first four slots in order, with any team repeats being thrown out and re-drawn. According to a source with knowledge of the proceedings, the NBA had to draw six times for four slots, with the order being Detroit, then Houston, then Detroit again, then Cleveland, Cleveland again, and finally, Toronto. Conspiracy theorists, do your worst.
Chris Fedor: #Cavs will do their due diligence during this process. They’ve interviewed Corey Kispert, Keon Johnson, Ziaire Williams, Sharife Cooper (he’s not 6-3 like listed, a source said), Miles McBride & BJ Boston along w/ Scottie Barnes. Kai Jones & Jalen Johnson the notables Friday
Chris Grenham: Providence’s David Duke Jr. tells me he will begin his pre-draft workouts w/ teams after the combine. He has yet to interview with the Celtics, but he has thought about playing in Boston: “Being a hometown kid, I definitely had dreams of playing for the Celtics one day.”