SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday, the Utah Jazz will leave their at-home isolated lives and the comfort of Zions Bank Basketball Campus, and descend on Walt Disney World in Orlando to become a part of the NBA’s bubble.
For the most part, the players are feeling pretty comfortable with the health and safety precautions that the NBA has put in place, and believe that the league is doing every thing within their power to mitigate risk related to the coronavirus.
It all looks good in theory and on paper, but how it will all work once the players are actually there is another thing entirely.
“I’m sure there will be some changes once we get down there, and they see that some things worked and some things didn’t,” Georges Niang said on Thursday.
With all the restrictions in place, players won’t be able to go about their lives as easily as they would during a normal season. Not only will there be guidelines keeping players from the outside world and at a safe distance from people, there will also be restrictions that keep them from their normal routines.
Players won’t be able to shower at arenas after practice or games, they’ll have to do that back at their hotel rooms. They’ll have to wear masks when they aren’t playing and when they socialize in any way with other players or coaches. There will be periods of quarantine and complete isolation when they first arrive at the Disney resort and there will be a lot of downtime during the duration of their stay, which could end up being three months.
“It reminds me of AAU, but we’ve got more restrictions and can’t do certain stuff,” Royce O’Neale said Friday. “But guys are going to find a way to have a routine and find balance while we’re down there, and get themselves acquainted with the surroundings.”
Admittedly, the NBA bubble will be much more luxurious than the sort of at-home isolation most of us have experienced. They’ll have small theater rooms available to them, gaming consoles, ping-pong, pool, outdoor activities, swimming pools, spas and a host of other things with which to keep themselves busy in between practices, games and film sessions.
Even so, as Niang jokingly pointed out, there are some luxuries that will be best left tested by the rookies.
“I know we’re going to have access to people to give us manicures, pedicures and haircuts,” he said. “I’m going to tell the rookies that they have to go get their haircut from the barber first and if I like what the barber does then I’ll be willing to take the risk.”
On an episode of ESPN’s First Take on Tuesday, Stephen A. Smith went on a vehement rant about the restrictive nature of the NBA bubble stating that players will violate the rules of the NBA bubble. The insinuation was that players would not be able to be away from their sexual partners for such a long time.
Stephen A Smith on NBA players breaking the Disney Bubble because they're going to be sexually frustrated and need to go out for "recreational activities"... pic.twitter.com/trgMrAUeAl— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 30, 2020
“Forget three months, they’re gonna struggle with three weeks,” Smith yelled.
Do the Jazz think that players will break the rules of the bubble?
“If they do, that’s them,” O’Neale said, dismissing the notion. “I’m single, I’m by myself, I ain’t got nothing to worry about. Quarantine life was kind of easy for me. I just played video games and hung out with my dog, so I think it’ll kind of be the same thing. Just without my dog. I’ll be alright.”
That’s actually similar to what a lot of players have said. Let’s remember that a lot of these guys are in their early-to-mid 20’s. They’ll be at a beautiful resort in Florida, they’ll have 300-plus other people around to hang out with, they’ll have tons of ways to stay entertained and if all else fails they can just play Call of Duty with each other.
“That wasn’t my biggest concern about Orlando,” Rudy Gobert said Friday. “I’m very happy spending time on my own, reading books, playing video games, all that stuff. ... I don’t have kids, I’m single, so it’s the kind of stuff I’ve been doing my whole life. It’s more like the virus and all the other stuff that we had a lot of questions about.”
As far as the actual games go, the players aren’t worried about playing without fans or how the schedule was decided on. They’re just excited to get to play again.
“We miss playing the game of basketball,” Niang said. “We miss our day jobs so I think for the most part we’re excited to get down there and use our platform for social issues and be safe while doing that. The NBA has set up an environment that’s given us the right safety protocols to move in the right direction to be able to play.”
The biggest fears seem to be centered around the virus, considering the spike in COVID-19 cases in Florida in recent weeks, and injury concerns after such a long layoff from basketball.
“All of us are trying to get into the best shape we can,” Niang said. “The time we’ve had off, you don’t want to be that team that just gets ran out of the gym. We want to do the running.”