It’s called the Loop. And what appears to be an innocuous road that surrounds the Coronado Springs Resort has become the most popular workout area for NBA coaches, referees, front office officials, and media members in the bubble.
With the exercise gyms in the hotels being limited because of social distancing, many bubble residents have taken to walking, running, or riding bikes around the 1.63-mile loop.
Hours before his team’s games, Celtics coach Brad Stevens can be seen walking the loop, earbuds in, while conducting a telephone conversation. A couple of hundred feet behind him one can find Celtics assistant coach Brandon Bailey jogging.
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 of 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?”
The only thing more awkward than the Loop is the situation in which all bubble residents find themselves, residing on a Disney campus, separated from family and friends. But it was the best way to resume the season safely. So instead of frowns when opposing executives cross paths, there’s acknowledgment.
For this reporter, the sights of the Loop have been vast. On a late-morning jog, I found the person who was speedwalking past me was Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. I saw Spoelstra later that night following a Miami win and he gave me props for grinding out the run, but his striding was quite impressive.
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.
“You have to find something to do to get away from the game,” Stevens said. “You get some fresh air and clear your head. It’s a nice way to spend a morning.”
And the Loop has provided a pleasant opportunity for bubble residents to enjoy the sunshine and build up a sweat. And who can forget the Disney employees who drive by in golf carts and cars waving and offering encouragement?
As far as security, no bubble resident is allowed to go beyond the Loop into the street that surrounds the resort or they would face being quarantined. So for many of us, the Loop is all we have in terms of consistent outdoor activity. The NBA offers golf and fishing to bubble residents, but only once per week.
The Florida sun is blazing by mid-morning, but to smell the fresh air, see the ponds that surround the area, and run into NBA folks doing the same thing is a neat experience.
Nets’ Nash not avoiding hot topic
New Nets coach Steve Nash addressed the elephant in the room quickly. While his hiring was greeted with kudos from some pundits around the NBA, others wondered how Nash, who has never coached at any level, made the meteoric rise to coaching a rising franchise such as the Nets.
Did Nash benefit from the basketball brilliance during his 18-year playing career or a perceived system that chooses white coaches without experience more expeditiously than their Black counterparts? Nash’s answer was yes and no.
“I have benefited from white privilege,” he said during his introductory press conference. "Our society has a lot of ground to make up. I’m not saying this position was a factor, but I think as white people we have to understand that we are served a privilege and benefit by the color of our skin in our communities. And we have a long way to go to find equality and social and racial justice. I hope that I am a great ally in that cause. I’m very sensitive to that cause and goal. I’m not sure that this was an example that purely fits that conversation. But I hope and understand people want to talk about it.
“We need more opportunity and diversity for African-American coaches and staff. This league was built on African-American players and stars that have made this one of the greatest entertainment industries and businesses in the world.”
Nash is a Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great point guards. He spent the past few years working as a consultant with the Warriors and formed a bond with current Nets forward Kevin Durant. He had hinted to Brooklyn GM Sean Marks, a friend from their days together in Phoenix, that he was intrigued by the possibility of coaching.
The Nets job was the most attractive on the market, with Durant and Kyrie Irving returning from injury to join a team that reached the postseason.
“It’s a unique opportunity, an incredible roster, it’s an incredible family here with the Nets,” he said. “I think the timing is fantastic. It’s something I put on the back burner but [have] always been taking notes, building, and getting my mind and getting the opportunity to use this lifetime of practice. This opportunity was a perfect match.”
Some of Nash’s close friends and contemporaries, such as Raptors coach Nick Nurse, said they had no idea Nash desired to be an NBA head coach. He said he has wanted to lead a team for years but wanted the optimal situation.
“This has been a 20-year relationship and process,” Nash said. “It did come together quickly in real time, real life. I love to compete. I love to teach. I love to be part of a team. It’s been on my mind for a long time. I felt like I had a lot to offer.”
Marks, who parted ways with popular coach Kenny Atkinson and bypassed interim coach Jacque Vaughn, said he didn’t have any hesitations about Nash, despite his lack of head coaching experience. His career accomplishments were good enough to make him the most attractive candidate.
“Steve is a little different,” Marks said. “You look at the career path that he’s had. I got an up close and personal experience with Steve. It goes back to watching how he conducted himself, the leader that he was. He was certainly a culture driver in those Suns days. There is no one that I’ve been around who wanted to be pressure-tested on the spot quite like Steve. He hasn’t run from anything. He wants the ball in his hands at the end of games and his career has spoken for itself.”
Nash admits he received advantages in his coaching quest, but he also stood by his leadership ability and acumen. Nash was indeed one of the great leaders of his generation of players.
“I did skip the line, frankly, but at the same time I think leading an NBA team for almost two decades is pretty unique,” he said. "While I haven’t necessarily learned some of the skills that I’ll definitely seek to learn and understand as far as the technical aspects of coaching, I was never far from that. To lead the team is such a unique position. It was not like I was in a vacuum. I learned a tremendous amount during my career. I haven’t grinded it out as an assistant coach like many people’s path, but there’s a precedent for players who have strong careers, who are leaders, thinkers, to get this opportunity. I definitely realize I’m going to need support, hopefully bring a lot of skills that are unique to the table.
“There’s some experiences there that some people just aren’t going to have because of the type of career and length of career that I have.”
And it didn’t hurt Nash that he shared a close relationship with the mercurial Irving, who left the Celtics to sign with the Nets.
“Kyrie’s one of my favorite players of all time,” Nash said. “He’s brilliant. His skill level is historically off the charts. He’s creative. Guts. Competitiveness. For me to be able to coach him is really a pleasure. We have a relationship going back to when he was a rookie. I’m excited to develop our relationship. He’s an incredible person.”
Rondo motivated on many fronts
Rajon Rondo has come back from a hand injury and sparkled in helping the Lakers to the verge of the Western Conference finals. He has again turned into Playoff Rondo, averaging 12.5 points, 7.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals through four games against the Rockets.
Celtics fans remember the Rondo who averaged 17.3 points and nearly 12 assists in the 2012 playoffs, and 16 points and 9.8 assists in 2009. Rondo wants a second NBA championship ring and has just as much motivation to win for off-the-court reasons as adding to his legacy.
Rondo is a native of Louisville, Ky., which has been a hotbed of controversy because of the shooting death of Breonna Taylor there in March. Taylor was shot and killed by police officers who executed a no-knock search warrant. When Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, thought the police were intruders he fired his legally owned firearm, and a shootout ensued.
Taylor, 26, who was unarmed, was killed while she was sleeping. The three officers who executed the warrant and participated in the shootout have not been charged with any crime, although one has been fired.
Rondo said it’s been disheartening to watch his city in turmoil and the officers still go without criminal charges.
“It’s been crazy, me being away from there and having so many people at home telling me what’s going on,” he told the Globe. “It’s been frustrating, especially people I grew up with and so many people from where I’m from as far as the west end of the city. It’s disheartening that it’s taken so long to get justice for Breonna. Obviously, the longer you wait, the more you feel like it’s not going to happen. I’m going to try to keep a positive outlook on things.”
The decision whether to file charges against the officers is up to Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, who maintains he needs additional time to research the case, which has been one of the main focuses of players' remarks in the bubble. Players such as the Celtics' Jaylen Brown, the Lakers' LeBron James, and the 76ers' Tobias Harris have called for the arrests of the three officers involved.
The city of Louisville fired police chief Steve Conrad on June 1 after an unrelated shooting incident in which the officers involved failed to have their body cameras turned on. Yvette Gentry, a retired deputy chief, was named interim chief this past week. She helped run Rondo’s foundation in Louisville for the past few years.
“I’m very proud of her and understand the job she’s going to do now, and it’s a matter of building from the ground up, and I think it’s a great start for her to lead the charge,” Rondo said. “I just want to get back home so I can talk to people face to face.”
Protests have been constant in the city since the Taylor shooting and Rondo said he feels limited in his ability to help by being in the bubble. One of the reasons players considered canceling the season was because they felt disconnected from issues in their communities.
“It’s very frustrating, but understand the way we can make change is to educate ourselves and understand how to make change,” Rondo said. “Protesting has been amazing, but there’s a lot more that we have to do, and when I’m able to get back home, get in front of the mayor, get in front of aldermen and certain judges and voice my opinion and get the right people, the lobbyists to try to make change, I’m looking forward to it. Honestly, I feel like I’ll have a bigger platform by staying here and getting a trophy and then going home and doing it.”
Rondo has a bigger plan than just winning another title. The hope is to bring some of his Lakers teammates to Louisville and potentially meet with city and state leaders.
“I’ve had to educate myself," he said. "I’ve been on the phone with Ms. Gentry trying to understand how can I help, how can I make a difference. I’m not really a guy that’s going to do it through a [social media] post. I want to get into the meat and potatoes and understand and let me talk to Mayor [Greg] Fischer, let me talk to the governor. I just want to get in front of those guys, educate myself, and have those questions when I’m able to talk to those guys face to face of how we can make a difference.”
The Grizzlies made a surprising hire Friday for one of their assistant coaching positions, naming MIT women’s coach Sonia Raman to Taylor Jenkins’s staff, another indication that NBA teams are not only embracing female coaches but rewarding those who may not be household names … The Pacers are considering Spurs assistant Becky Hammon for their head coaching position, another indication the NBA is a step closer to naming its first female head coach. But there are other strong female candidates for coaching positions, including Celtics director of player personnel Allison Feaster, who has been with the club the entire time in the bubble and is quickly rising in the organization. The Celtics have a coaching opening after Kara Lawson left to take the head coaching job for the Duke women’s team. Feaster, who played at Harvard, was a longtime WNBA and overseas player, and she could also be an eventual candidate for a GM position … Marvin Williams announced his retirement after the Bucks were eliminated from the playoffs, ending a solid 15-year career for the former North Carolina Tar Heel. Williams was drafted second overall in 2005, ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and although he never turned into the superstar that some projected, Williams became a productive swingman in his years with the Hawks, Jazz, Hornets, and Bucks. He was bought out of the final year of his contract by the Hornets so he could pursue a title with Milwaukee. He averaged 5.5 points in 10 playoff games this season … One player who is boosting his free agent status is Miami guard Goran Dragic, one of the key reasons the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. Dragic, 34, is averaging 21.1 points and shooting 38.1 percent from the 3-point line. His age may be a factor when signing a new deal, but Dragic could be one of the highly pursued point guards on the market. Injuries have been a factor over the past few years, but Dragic has been productive when healthy … There could also be a job opening soon in Houston as coach Mike D’Antoni is in the final year of his contract and the Rockets have not looked sharp during the bubble games, holding off the Thunder in seven games and then losing three straight to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals after winning Game 1.