Life Inside the N.B.A. Bubble

Life Inside the N.B.A. Bubble

Life Inside the N.B.A. Bubble

Life Inside the N.B.A. Bubble

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — A knock on the heavy brown door of my first-floor hotel room at Walt Disney World finally came Sunday night just before 10 p.m.

This was the all-business knock I was waiting for. Three technicians from BioReference Laboratories wearing white coats and face shields, and accompanied by an N.B.A. representative, had arrived to administer my first-ever coronavirus test.

According to the rules in the N.B.A.’s corner of Disney World, no one is allowed inside the 314-square-foot room I am restricted to through Sunday. So I slid a chair up to the doorway to receive a shallow swab of each nostril and my throat. The sticks were snapped and placed in a tube, then stored in a crate to take back to the lab. The swabs, roughly five hours after I checked in, took less than a minute.

I took my second coronavirus test Monday night, nearly 24 hours later, even before I had a result confirmed from the first. But the end goal remains unchanged: I need a week’s worth of negative results from daily tests to gain full entry into what everyone refers to as the N.B.A. bubble — even though league officials, as Commissioner Adam Silver put it last week, acknowledge that it is better described as a campus because it is by no means “hermetically sealed.”

Only two reporters are fully inside so far. Once the rest of us are allowed to look around, access restrictions for reporters will be the most onerous in league history. The N.B.A. believes that’s the appropriate approach for what is surely its most complex undertaking in league history, but the strictness makes it difficult to say how much of the bubble we’ll really be able to see. Reporters can only go three places after quarantining — game venues, practice sites and the hotel designated for the news media. The three hotels that house the 22 teams are off limits.

Yet this first-of-its-kind event, even after accounting for all those deterrents, was simply unmissable.

Regular readers of this newsletter know that for weeks I have been voicing concerns about the dangers of the N.B.A. restart, stemming from the virus as well as soft-tissue injury risks. That apprehension hasn’t gone away; how could it when Florida racked up a national record 15,300 new coronavirus cases on Sunday as I arrived? But this is the league I’ve been fortunate to cover for nearly 30 years. The moment is just too big, too historic and too different to stay away.

“This is going to be a very unique opportunity to observe the human condition,” said Tommy Sheppard, the general manager of the Washington Wizards.

Closer to 20 journalists, compared to the anticipated 10, have been approved to enter, reflecting the considerable curiosity generated by 22 teams that must live and play at a single site without fans. That includes journalists from The Associated Press, The Athletic, The Boston Globe, The Dallas Morning News, The Los Angeles Times, Southern California News Group, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times. A like number of journalists from the league’s official media partners, ESPN and Turner, is also expected, including one reporter from each outlet who was allowed to arrive early to complete their quarantines before teams started arriving on July 7: Malika Andrews (ESPN) and Chris Haynes (Turner/Yahoo).

Those outlets will have enjoyed a 12- or 13-day jump on the rest of us by the time we can exit our rooms and attend a practice. Yet I learned long ago, from several mentors at The Orange County Register in the 1980s when I was just starting out, that sportswriters shouldn’t bemoan work conditions to readers because they simply don’t want to hear it. So I will shut up and report from behind that brown door until lockdown ends and report even more on the other side.

A few more highlights and observations to share from the first 48 hours:

  • The next time you fly, expect to feel disoriented. Being back in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport Sunday for the first time since March 13, even as much as I typically travel, was … tense. Any time a line had to be formed, just figuring out where to stand and how to social distance was awkward. And that was before I even got on the plane.

  • On top of the well-chronicled three daily food drop-offs made to everyone in quarantine, room service is available from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. I’ve tested it twice, but I have not yet tried either the New York strip steak or the braised beef short ribs that had the Los Angeles Lakers’ newly signed J.R. Smith excited, amid his various complaints, when he read the menu aloud last week on Instagram Live.

  • I am a coffee snob who has zero dexterity to make my own coffee decently, no matter how hard I try. I stuffed one suitcase and two large duffel bags to capacity — but that left no room to bring my own fancy coffee maker. So I purchased some space-efficient Keurig pods that looked interesting online, packed them to use with the machine in my room and hoped for the best. After it was too late, I shared this plan with Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles. “Keurig ain’t it,” Ingles said with a laugh. Utah’s coffee connoisseur was right.

  • I can handle the isolation — I think. The only daunting development so far was finding out, after fully unpacking, that we must move to a new room after completing the seven-day quarantine. I couldn’t function until two months’ worth of clothes were all on the extra hangers I brought, or until I found places for the considerable work supplies, toiletries, hats, snacks (peanuts mostly) and maybe even a small stash of a glass-bottle soft drink you may have heard colleagues rib me about in the past.

  • I can’t leave the room until Sunday night, but I haven’t seen any security presence outside my window. I nonetheless intend to obey the rules and stay put, no matter how badly I would like to walk to the ice machine steps from my room. Even that is not permitted.

  • The thick, gray, rubber MagicBand bracelet that functions as a room key is adorned with two iconic silhouettes: Mickey Mouse and Jerry West, the inspiration for the N.B.A. logo. It may prove to be the best Disney souvenir we take home when this is all over — if we indeed get to keep it.

I am scheduled to be here until early September, before a handoff to my colleague Scott Cacciola. Of course, as we all know by now, planning in 2020 tends to be futile. So especially in these early stages, for me as much as anyone, bubble life is probably best approached day-to-day.

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Stephen Jackson helped the San Antonio Spurs win a championship in his third N.B.A. season. He moved past his role in the ugliest brawl in league annals to earn a lasting place in Golden State Warriors folklore. When his playing career ended, Jackson stayed in the game by transitioning to the media industry.

Then he eclipsed all of those achievements by fighting so passionately for justice on behalf of George Floyd, his longtime friend from the Houston area whom he affectionately referred to as “Twin.”

The leadership and energy Jackson has poured into the Black Lives Matter movement over the past six weeks, at one of the most meaningful junctures for race relations in this nation’s history, has been the finest work of his 20 years in the public eye.

Yet it has suddenly become difficult to focus on any of that. Last week, Jackson made anti-Semitic remarks and defended a social media post from DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles that used a quote widely misattributed to Adolf Hitler and also cited Louis Farrakhan, a minister with a history of anti-Semitic comments.

I have covered Stephen Jackson extensively through his highs and lows. I briefly worked alongside him at ESPN. I profiled him for The New York Times as recently as June 11, covering his emergence as an activist after Floyd’s death under the headline: “Stephen Jackson Was Known in the N.B.A. as an Agitator. Now He’s Leading a Movement.” In the article, Jackson spoke of his determination to be “a voice for the voiceless” as his voice unexpectedly became so prominent.

It is against the backdrop of Stephen Jackson’s widely lauded activism, beyond my status as Jewish journalist who covers the N.B.A., that Jackson’s comments were so disturbing.

It was disappointing to watch — and not only for the pain it caused when Stephen Jackson was slow to apologize for his initial backing of DeSean Jackson and then repeated a centuries-old trope about how Jews “control all the banks.” It was also hard to watch because of the damage Stephen Jackson did to himself.

Having taken on such a momentous role in the battle against systemic racism and police brutality that means so much to so many in the N.B.A., Jackson swiftly undermined those efforts. As Michael Wilbon, another former ESPN colleague of mine, so aptly put it on “Pardon The Interruption,” Jackson hurt his own credibility as a voice for equality.

In a CNN interview with Don Lemon, Jackson ultimately conceded that he used the “wrong words” from the beginning. Jackson insisted that his much-criticized support for DeSean Jackson was misconstrued and that he failed to clarify that when he spoke of DeSean Jackson being “right,” he was referring to a private conversation the two had about DeSean Jackson’s treatment by the Eagles.

But DeSean Jackson’s initial post purported to quote Hitler, the personification of hate after orchestrating the genocide of six million Jews during the Holocaust. It also invoked Farrakhan, who has a well-chronicled history of anti-Semitic comments, including describing Hitler as “a very great man.” The perception thus lingers for Stephen Jackson that he endorsed the most offensive possible hate speech to Jews and then showed less contrition than DeSean Jackson, who is not related.

I have my own personal connection to the Holocaust, as I have written, after my late father and his parents were seized by the Nazis in Romania when he was 9 ½ months old and ultimately taken to a concentration camp called Transnistria. But I am trying to separate that as much as I can and cover this, first and foremost, as an N.B.A. issue, just as I am trying to understand and cover issues that affect people of color every day in this league better than I have before.

In virtually every social media message Jackson has posted since Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, Jackson has included what has become his signature phrase: Love For All Who Have Love For All.

At a great cost last week, Jackson seemed to completely forget his own mantra.

With such significant topics commandeering the first two sections of this newsletter, we have placed Corner Three on a one-week hiatus. It will return next Tuesday.

Please send your questions to, and be sure to include your first and last name, the city you’re writing from and “Corner Three” in the subject line.

The Detroit Pistons are one of three N.B.A. franchises to win a title in the inaugural season at their home building. The Pistons won it all in 1988-89 to cap their first season at The Palace of Auburn Hills, with the Los Angeles Lakers (Staples Center in 1999-2000) and San Antonio (AT&T Center in 2002-03) later duplicating the feat. The Pistons moved back to downtown Detroit for the 2017-18 season after spending nearly 30 years in the suburb of Auburn Hills, Mich., and the previous 10 seasons in Pontiac, Mich. The remains of The Palace, whose demolition began in February, were imploded Saturday.

Washington’s Bradley Beal, who elected not to participate in the N.B.A. restart because of a right shoulder injury, finished the season with a scoring average of 30.5 points per game. He’s the first player in league history to crack the 30 points-per-game barrier for a season without earning All-Star status.

Even after electing to skip the Wizards’ eight seeding games at Walt Disney World, Beal will have appeared in 79.1 percent of Washington’s games this season. As my pal Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko), a creator of Basketball Reference, recently reminded us via Twitter, Beal had to play in at least 70 percent of Washington’s games to qualify among the league’s scoring leaders.

Beal realistically wasn’t going to catch James Harden’s 34.4 points per game, even if he had played in Florida, but his absence means Harden needs only 12 points in the Houston Rockets’ eight forthcoming games in Florida to win his third consecutive N.B.A. scoring title.

Nets Coach Jacque Vaughn heads to the N.B.A. restart with a spotless 2-0 record, courtesy of March victories over the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. Vaughn, who some in coaching circles believe has a better-than-anticipated opportunity to become Kenny Atkinson’s full-time successor, posted a 58-158 record in Orlando in 2 ½ seasons coaching the Magic from 2012-15.

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