What to expect from the new NBA experience in the bubble 

Washington Wizards' Hachimura Rui shares what life is like at Walt Disney World for the players.

By ZK Goh

Have you wondered, away from all the social media posts, what it's like to live in the National Basketball Association's "bubble" at Walt Disney World in Florida?

As part of the Airbnb Olympian & Paralympian Online Experiences, Washington Wizards power forward Hachimura Rui gave a little insight into his life in the isolated bubble where he will stay until his team is eliminated from this season's competition.

In the early days of the bubble, social media posts from within suggested the players were dealing with less-than-ideal food, but according to the Japanese rookie, that's no longer the case.

"You guys saw a lot of things on social media about the food and stuff, but it was just a couple of days, we'd just started quarantine and we couldn't actually get great food," he said.

"Right now, we've been getting good food almost every day. It's been great."

Amenities and fun

Alongside what you would expect for athletes like gyms and fitness and conditioning areas, Hachimura says there is a lot available to the players, something which has helped his team gel.

"We can do a lot of stuff, we have a pool, a player lounge, you can play ping pong and video games and stuff. We have a barbershop, we can go fishing, water slides, bowling, golf, there's a lot of stuff you can do in here.

"The Wizards are a very young team, we have a lot of young guys, it's a new team, so we're still trying to get to know each other. To be in the bubble, in the same hotel, to spend time together and eat together and go fishing, go golfing, it's good to have that time to get to know each other.

"It almost reminds me of when I was in college. Our team chemistry is really good right now."

Of course, being in "the bubble" with so many other NBA players also has its perks for a newcomer to the league like the 22-year-old.

"There's a lot of other players too, so for example LeBron (James) just walking around the bubble – everywhere, superstars just walking around and living in the same hotels, living the same lifestyle, it's kind of cool."

Serious business

To manage the number of players and staff and for reasons of league competitiveness, only 22 of the NBA's 30 teams have been invited to play in the mini-tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. The eight teams excluded had the worst records in the league when the season was suspended in March.

Each team was allowed to bring 37 people into the bubble – 13-17 players and the rest staff, although only half the teams named full 17-man playing squads. One – the Portland Trail Blazers – took the minimum 13 players into the bubble.

Every person in the bubble, from players to team officials to media (there are 10 independently-accredited reporters alongside the NBA's media partners), had to stay in their rooms upon arrival until cleared by the league – a quarantine period of two days for league and team staff and players; seven days for media.

In addition, the New York Times' Marc Stein reports that he and other journalists were made to sign agreements – "unprecedented waivers", as he called them – saying they would not approach players or staff outside of interviews and press conferences approved by the NBA.

Other things to know

  • To limit the number of people required, mental health specialists and certain medical personnel are being shared by teams.
  • Three hotels are being used to host the 22 teams' nearly 350 players.
  • The hotels were assigned to teams based on their league position. Each conference's top four teams were allocated to the best hotel available.
  • As well as the amenities mentioned by Hachimura, other facilities on offer include yoga, meditation, hair stylists and manicures.
  • Remember the complaints about food? After the initial two-day quarantine, each team was allowed to use personal or team chefs (from outside the bubble), and each team has its own food room.
  • No one is allowed to leave the bubble without special dispensation. A number of players whose wives and partners are expecting will be allowed to join their family for the birth of their children, but will have to serve an additional quarantine on return.
  • Richaun Holmes of the Sacramento Kings was made to undergo an extended 10-day quarantine after crossing the bubble's "border" to pick up food.
  • Daily coronavirus tests are on offer in the bubble. This is limited to throat swabs and shallow nostril swabs, but anyone serving a 10-day quarantine must undergo a PCR test involving a swab being placed high into the nostril.
  • From 13 July to 20 July (346 tests) and from 20 July to 29 July (344 tests), not a single player returned a positive coronavirus test inside the bubble. Two players had tested positive before 13 July.
  • There are only seven practice courts being shared between all 22 teams, meaning teams are assigned different time slots for practice and some have to wait the entire day until the final 7-10 pm slot.
  • Players and staff of any team that makes it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals will not leave the bubble before 12 October, the date a potential Game 7 is scheduled for.
  • Three different arenas will be used for league and playoff play.
  • The Black Lives Matter slogan has been painted onto the court at each arena.
  • There will be no bench at the arenas; players and staff will sit on individual chairs that have been placed at a specified distance from each other.
  • Large digital screens will surround each court and will be used to connect fans at home directly with the court and serving as "court-side seats", using the Microsoft Teams software.
  • Each team will play eight "regular season" games that will be added to their record. The top seven teams per conference qualify for the playoffs as usual; the eighth team will qualify automatically if they are five or more games ahead of the ninth-placed team. Otherwise, the eighth- and ninth-placed teams will meet in a special series to determine the final playoff spot.
  • Teams will be allowed to add staff members to their 37 maximum limit the further they go in the playoffs.
  • Teams in the playoffs will be allowed to reserve one guest room per player into the bubble, at the player's expense. Guests must also meet the NBA's quarantine and testing regulations.
  • A telephone hotline has been set up for anyone inside the bubble to report infractions by other people. Yes, you can report someone else anonymously for breaking the rules.
  • The NBA has created a 113-page rulebook for life in the bubble. It goes as far as to say players may play cards if they each wear a mask and the deck of cards is thrown away after the game.
  • Another of the rules in that handbook? Players playing table tennis must only play singles and cannot play doubles. Oh, and when playing golf, no caddies are allowed.

(Thumbnail photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)