SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday, the NBA and Players Association once again announced that there have been zero positive COVID-19 tests returned from players in the bubble.
From the isolated hotels and arenas at Walt Disney World in Florida, the NBA is watching as other professional sports leagues struggle to contain the virus.
Major League Baseball’s truncated schedule has already been chaotic with multiple outbreaks among teams, and as the NFL readies for its fanless season, following MLB’s example in including travel and allowing players to go home after practices and games, coaches and players who have tested positive are unsure about the kind of success possible without a bubble.
Meanwhile, at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, the NBA continues to reap the rewards of significant planning and the safety measures put in place in order to finish the 2019-20 season and playoffs.
“Knock on wood, the fact that there’s been so few tests that are even problematic is a credit to the NBA and really to the compliance of the players and the coaches and the NBA personnel that are here,” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Wednesday morning. “Everybody has been sensitive and conscious of abiding by the protocols that are set up to help.”
There have been players that have slipped up, missing their daily coronavirus test, and required to isolate and return negative tests before rejoining their team. Then there was the mishap with Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, who left the bubble on an excused absence to attend the funeral of a close friend and mentor. It later came to light through photos shared on social media that Williams had stopped off in a strip club to pick up some food, an unwise decision that the NBA was ready for. Williams was required to quarantine in his hotel room in the bubble for 10 days, still being tested daily, missing games before rejoining the Clippers.
Through all of the variables, through missed tests, players leaving the bubble and needing to return, there has been a clear outline of the procedure that has made everyone involved feel greater confidence in the continued success of the NBA bubble.
“There is absolutely no doubt that the NBA, under the leadership of Adam Silver, has done a magnificent job of being visionaries in the sense of looking at the big picture and what unintended consequences may appear,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Since the day we got here, everything has been so efficient, disciplined, done with ease. It’s not like being at basic training in the military, it’s very organized like the military, but everyone involved is here to help and to be on the same page.”
When first arriving in Orlando, player and coaches were unsure about the confinement they would be experiencing, what rules and regulations would have to be adhered to and if the plan would work. Since then the vastness of the Disney campus closed off for the NBA has been overwhelmingly pleasant with opportunities for golfing, fishing, swimming and countless other activities.
As Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams described it, it’s not that hard, they’re essentially living “at a resort.”
For the most part, everyone agrees, but that resort life comes with sacrifice.
“It’s not that it’s not difficult,” Snyder said. “I think the people that are here, because everybody is feeling some of the same things, they’ve been able to support each other. ... That doesn’t mean you don’t miss your family. I don’t think anyone wants to be in the bubble in perpetuity, but I think people from a mental standpoint have gotten their mind around it.”
Snyder went on to point out that the challenges of NBA players and coaches within the bubble are probably outweighed by the families they had to leave behind and even more so by the people that are still battling the virus.
“I know my wife is at home with four kids and she’s balancing that,” he said. “Everybody’s got their own challenges, the people that are here and the people that aren’t here supporting us that are trying to make do and most important, the people that have contracted this virus and the people that continue to work around the clock, painstakingly to keep other people safe.”
The players, coaches and personnel at the bubble understand how lucky they are to be able to be somewhere and feel safe right now, they know that’s a privilege many don’t have.
The hope now is that the safety measures continue so that the NBA can crown a 2020 champion in October. As for next season, no decisions have been made regarding what that could look like, but it’s hard to imagine the NBA going back to normal until the rest of the country is able to contain the coronavirus.