Nikola Vucevic had to raise his voice a bit to answer a question. He had just walked off the court after the first Magic practice of the NBA’s restart, and some of his teammates had remained on the floor while engaged in a loud and enthusiastic shooting contest.
After four months, the NBA was truly back.
Full-scale practices inside the NBA bubble at the Disney World complex started Thursday, with the Magic — the first team to get into the campus this week — becoming the first team formally back on the floor. By the close of business Thursday, all 22 teams participating in the restart were to be checked into their hotels and beginning their isolation from the rest of the world for what will be several weeks at least. And by Saturday, all teams should have practiced at least once.
“It’s great to be back after four months,” Vucevic said. “We all missed it.”
The last eight teams were coming in Thursday, the Lakers and 76ers among them.
Lakers forward LeBron James lamented saying farewell to his family. “Just left the crib to head to the bubble. ... Hated to leave the #JamesGang,” James posted on Twitter.
Sixers forward Joel Embiid — who raised some eyebrows this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restarting the season in a bubble — showed up for his team’s flight in what appeared to be a full hazmat suit.
Another last-day arrival at the Disney campus was the reigning NBA champion Raptors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples — they had been there for about two weeks, training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers — for the trip to the bubble. The buses were specially wrapped for the occasion, with the Raptors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the sides.
The Nets, Jazz, Wizards and Suns also were down to practice Thursday, along with the Magic. The Nuggets were originally scheduled to, then pushed back their opening session to Friday. By Saturday, practices will be constant — 22 teams working out at various times in a window spanning 13½ hours and spread out across seven facilities at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.
Exhibition games are scheduled to begin July 22. Games are scheduled to restart July 30.
“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brooklyn interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson less than a week before the March 11 suspension of the season because of the coronavirus. “I think that was the most exciting thing. We got a little conditioning underneath us. Didn’t go too hard after the quarantine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a little bit and feel the ball again.”
Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days after arriving before they could get on the practice floor. Many players have passed the time with video games; Heat center Meyers Leonard, with the team not practicing for the first time until Friday, has been giving fans glimpses of everything from his gaming setup to his room service order for his first dinner at Disney — replete with lobster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.
The food has been a big talking point so far, especially after a handful of players turned to social media to share what got portrayed as less-than-superb meals during the brief quarantine period.
Then there was the Lakers’ Rajon Rondo, who compared his room at a Disney resort hotel to a Motel 6.
“For the most part, everything has been pretty good, in my opinion,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “They’ve done a good job taking care of us and making sure to accommodate us in every area as much as possible.”
Learning the campus has been another key for the first few days, and that process likely will continue for a while since teams will be using all sorts of facilities while getting back into the practice routine.
“We have to make the best out of it,” Vucevic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re going to try to make the best out of it. I really think the NBA did the best they could to know make this as good as they can for us. And once we start playing, you’re not going to be thinking about the little things.”
— By TIM REYNOLDS