ORLANDO — Although there appears to be chaos and mayhem surrounding them in the Sunshine State, the NBA appears safe, secure, and comfortable in its Walt Disney bubble.
News that several players from the Miami Marlins and two coaches tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the cancellation of their home games with the Baltimore Orioles Monday and Tuesday and a team quarantine in Philadelphia raised some eyebrows here in Central Florida.
But the consensus from NBA players and coaches here is that they being well taken care of, even if some of the players aren’t exactly pleased with all of the medical protocols required for the season to resume.
The day begins — because it has to — with players taking their temperature and oxygen saturation before leaving their hotel rooms. If they don’t, they are not allowed into any NBA facility. Every person in the bubble wears a band with a Mickey Mouse logo that has to be scanned before entering any building. If the scanner turns blue, the player did not test himself and must do so before being allowed into any facility.
Privately, there have been several players who have left their hotel without doing this task and some have had to be reminded by team officials or put reminders in their phones to ensure they don’t go blue.
“You have got to do everything you can to help that test be negative,” said Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who tested positive for COVID-19 in March. “That’s washing your hands, getting your rest, making sure you got enough fluids in your body, getting your treatment. Maintaining your body is really going to help, especially now more than ever.”
The reality is the NBA knew the only way a season resumption would be successful was in a bubble, in a controlled environment with everyone from the players, coaches, Disney employees, and bus drivers tested for COVID-19 daily. What’s more, on each bus and shuttle that takes teams, media, league, and team officials to the playing facilities is a sign that reads, “I get tested every day” in reference to the driver.
“I have people tell me to be safe, but I think we’re in a pretty safe place now,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “The league has done everything it can to make sure we pull this off. Of course, it’s difficult to be away from your families, but they have taken every precaution to make sure we’re OK and can focus on basketball.”
There have been some players who have left the campus inadvertently, such as Sacramento center Richaun Holmes, who crossed a Disney barrier to pick up a food delivery and was forced to quarantine for 10 days. Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams left campus for his native Atlanta last week to attend the funeral of his grandfather and was caught in an Instagram photo at a strip club while wearing an NBA-logoed mask. He is in a 10-day quarantine that was mandated when he returned.
The players and coaches were warned of the conditions when they arrived and, as limiting they may be, the repercussions are costly. Williams will miss at least the Clippers’ first two seeded games. Clippers coach Doc Rivers couldn’t argue with the penalty, and he is pleased with how the league is handing the resumption and protecting the health of players and coaches.
“I don’t compare the two,” Rivers said, when asked about Major League Baseball. “We’re not traveling, going to different stadiums. What we’re doing and what they’re doing is so different. I like what we’re doing. The league has been phenomenal in everything. This is not the way you want to live in one place, right? But they’re doing their best to make it an enjoyable experience.
“There’s restaurants open. We golf. We boat. We fish. We go to the movies. It’s different. You’ve got to give the league a lot of credit. Again, we don’t know if this is going to work or not. But I think the league has given us every chance for this to work and if we do it right, we have a shot at it.”
COVID-19 cases were steady in the NBA just a few weeks ago with players such as Russell Westbrook, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kevin Durant, and Smart, previously testing positive. But in a statement released by the league a week ago, there were no positive tests out of 346 players tested in the bubble.
“It’s humbling. We absolutely have to continue to remain respectful and humble with this virus,” Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “I’ve said it many times, we are not in control. We feel very confident about the plan and the depth of planning and thought that has gone into this operation here in this bubble. There’s a lot of planning and it’s based on a great deal of science and an incredible amount of collaboration from the league, the Players Association, the organizations.
“I still wake up every morning and the first thing I do is check my phone to wait for my text message from [team trainer] Jay Sabol to get the news of the results of the testing. That’s just the way it’s going to continue to be.”
Again, many players are annoyed with the daily routine, but understand this is the only way to play basketball and earn a living safely.
“It’s very repetitive, but overall I think the NBA is going a great job,” Clippers center Joakim Noah said. “They’re keeping us safe, that’s for sure. Sometimes it’s ... you know what? No complaints. The NBA is doing a great job, making sure we’re safe. There’s a lot of structure. Every day it’s checking temperature, just making sure everything is just right.
“These are the sacrifices you have to make to play basketball. It’s not easy for everybody, but we understand why we’re here and it’s a blessing to play basketball, that’s for sure.”