26 Sep 2020

Life inside the NBA Bubble: Ben Golliver

From Saturday Morning, 4:10 pm on 26 September 2020

A fascinating social and sporting experiment has been going on in Florida for the past two months, with the National Basketball Association spending an estimated $US180 million on creating an isolation zone.

No caption

Photo: By Jrobertiko - Denis Adriana Macias, CC BY-SA 3.0,)

The 2020 NBA Bubble has been set up in Walt Disney World near Orlando.

Since July, players and support staff have been staying in the resort as they complete the regular season and the playoffs. There's daily testing, temperature checks, wrist bands that alarm when you get too close to someone for more than a few seconds - all so the remaining teams can play for the title in deserted gymnasiums with no spectators.

Ben Golliver is the Washington Post's NBA correspondent who has been staying in the Bubble since Day 1 and is now writing a book called Bubbleball about the experience.

Ben Golliver at his Disney World hotel

Ben Golliver at his Disney World hotel Photo: supplied

Golliver said the NBA was faced with a billion dollar problem when the coronavirus pandemic hit and could not play games in stadiums in front of fans.

NBA did not just need to generate revenue but to give some closure to the players and crown a champion as they have done every season, he said.

Golliver said they considered the alternatives.

"So they started to scramble and brainstorm and decide what sort of a place could house 22 teams, more than 1500 people - coaches, media members and everything else - and where can you do it safely to seal it off from the outside world?"

He said they considered Los Vegas but settled on Walt Disney World and the ESPN sports complex and created a contained environment that was like their "own little planet".

Golliver said the careful planning has paid off and no one within the bubble has tested positive for Covid-19 in over two months and games have continued without issue.

He said when he entered the bubble he had to undergo a seven day quarantine period in his hotel room and had to pass seven consecutive Covid tests during that time.

Checks continued to be strict even after he was released from his hotel room, Golliver said.

For example, he still has to provide a daily temperature reading and fill in a daily questionnaire saying whether he has any Covid symptoms or whether he has been in contact with anyone who has tested positive.

Golliver said he still gets a Covid test every morning and if he does not do that, he is not allowed to attend games.

Media and other staff are restricted in terms of which areas he can enter and the players are kept within a bubble inside the bubble, he said.

Masks and social distancing are mandatory.

He said there is a huge list of rules and it is all carefully monitored by multiple levels of law enforcement which include Disney security, local police, NBA security itself and video surveillance.

"No overnight guests, no outside food delivery services, those kinds of things will wind up getting you the need to re-quarantine for up to 10 days," he said.

"They look at it like this, if LeBron [James] were to test positive that's like a $500 million mistake because that just means he can't play in games and your television ratings go down the tube."

Golliver said the NBA had to make it worthwhile and very safe in order for the well-paid players to be prepared to enter the bubble.

He said despite all the constrictions it has been an unbelievable experience.

"I'm coming here almost out of hibernation, we didn't have anything to talk about or write about for four months so now I'm in a situation where I can go to every single basketball game, every single playoff game ... it's just an unbelievable experience for a basketball junky like myself."