Inside Disney World bubble, NBA players have plenty of free-time options

There's fishing and golf. New food adventures. And an app that even lets them report people violating health protocols.
The 22 teams in the NBA restart are practicing at Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and spend their off hours at hotels and other places on the Disney property.
The 22 teams in the NBA restart are practicing at Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and spend their off hours at hotels and other places on the Disney property. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL / ORLANDO SENT | TNS ]
Published July 16, 2020

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Every team in the NBA bubble at Disney World has played golf. Most have had at least a few players go fishing. Some have taken boats out. Bowling is available for a few hours most nights. The barbers arrive for the first time later this week. And the walking trail is pretty much always occupied by coaches or players.

On occasion, basketball even gets played.

This is the NBA’s home away from home for the foreseeable future, and efforts are being made to make the time here fun. The so-called bubble is where 22 teams have settled for about a week now, where they all will remain for another month and where teams that make the playoffs will be for considerably longer.

“We’re trying to just live our life,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Have our best Disney life.”

This summer away from home isn’t ideal. Players and coaches are away from their families, many teams are missing players or other personnel because of the coronavirus, and there are daily reminders that even this well-isolated world was created during a pandemic. Medical personnel — wearing gowns, masks, gloves and plastic visors — are arriving to place a swab in everyone’s mouth and two more in their nasal passages for the next COVID-19 test.

But the league is trying to make the days at Disney go a little faster, with activities available almost around the clock. And players are making the best of things; the Nuggets even turned an off day into time for a full-team pool workout this week.

“I don’t think you can ever build enough ‘we,’ enough togetherness,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Golf has been the free-time hit; a new private driving range just for NBA player use is scheduled to open Saturday to keep up with their demand. A few players — including some who don’t even play golf regularly, like the Heat’s Goran Dragic — figured they might as well try to learn the game.

“It’ll be good for me mentally to have something else to think about during the downtime,” said Dragic, whose wife and children returned home to the family’s native Slovenia on Wednesday. “So, I had my golf clubs sent here, just to try something new.”

And there’s the food.

Panned by some players upon arrival, the fare in quarantine wasn’t quite the level that NBA types are used to seeing, but it has generally gotten decent reviews since. Those in quarantine at Disney get three meals dropped off outside their door each day, with an array of items to choose from in those bags.

Teams have meal rooms set up with menus that were developed in cooperation with their staffs and dietitians. And when all else fails, there are delivery options and room service offering everything from bisques to flourless chocolate cakes.

“If you’re talking about it being a five-star restaurant, no, but if you talk about it being good food that you can eat and enjoy, I think it is,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We’re not eating off of fine china, but we’re also eating off of biodegradable containers, which I think is very smart to do. Obviously, we’re not eating with silverware because that poses a threat as far as spreading the virus also.”

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The NBA even developed an app for the Disney life.

Every team was assigned a liaison to help book outings and handle needs, and the app includes things from how to get food delivered to how to book extra practice time. There’s a page within the app that allows players to report violations of health protocols, such as someone not wearing a mask, as well as links to mental health resources and even details on how players can register to vote if they haven’t.

In short, there are many ways to keep busy in the bubble.

“I brought my bike,” Rivers said. “it’s yet to leave the room, but the thought is nice. Hopefully someday I get on it. We’ve got a lot to do. It’s still not normal, but that’s fine with us. Again, we’re going to live the best Disney life that we can.”

NOTES: The Nets’ newly signed Jamal Crawford, who will be the oldest player in the restart at 40 — a bit ahead of fellow 40-year-old Udonis Haslem of the Heat — practiced with the team for the first time Wednesday. … Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, who previously said he wouldn’t play in the restart, said his mind may be changing. “Coming down here and getting some practices in, getting my feet under me, going out there playing with the guys, there’s a possibility that I could play,” Oladipo said. … The NBA slightly amended some protocols to address concerns some teams have about false positive tests for the coronavirus, adding review of an antibody test as part of the return-to-play path. The league made that announcement in a memo obtained by The Associated Press and other outlets. ... The Spurs announced that Trey Lyles had an emergency appendectomy Wednesday and will miss the remainder of the season. … The Kings’ De’Aaron Fox will miss 7-10 days with a sprained left ankle. He got hurt in practice Wednesday.