Swabs, sensors and personal Gatorade: Snapshots of NBA’s bubble life
By Marc Stein
I’ve covered the NBA for nearly 30 years, but life in the league’s bubble introduces new sights and sounds almost daily. Allow me to share a few snapshots — things you would see only in the tightly controlled campus at Walt Disney World.
Everyone in the bubble is asked to wear a proximity sensor to promote social distancing. A chirping alarm sounds if two people wearing sensors are within 6 feet each of other for 10 seconds — provided both are actually wearing them and have charged them overnight.
Sensors are optional for players, many of whom privately scoff at the idea of wearing a device that is not a movement tracker but is widely described that way. Everyone else, including reporters, is required to wear them. That leads to lots of chirping on bus rides and in postgame news media scrums when maintaining 6 feet of distance is nearly impossible.
Every day in the bubble starts the same for reporters. We record our temperature and oxygen saturation readings via a league-sanctioned app to receive access at checkpoints within the bubble.
Then we head to the testing room, with access set aside exclusively for reporters in the 9 a.m. hour, to receive three shallow throat swabs and one shallow swab of each nostril — daily.
The traditional NBA bench is gone. To keep the area as safe as possible, there are three rows of socially distanced chairs. Players are assigned seats furnished with an individual Gatorade station to ensure no sharing of drinks.
San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, at 71, is the oldest coach in the NBA He is among the few coaches who wears a mask while coaching games, despite the impediment to voice projection. When asked why he stays faithful to the mask, Popovich replied, “I don’t want to die.” Coaches such as Popovich and Houston’s Mike D’Antoni have expressed surprise about the quality of play after the long layoff. There is cautious optimism that the bubble can hold through October to allow the NBA to produce a legitimate conclusion to the 2019-20 season.
Of course, there is no guarantee that the NBA can continue to keep the coronavirus from infiltrating this first-of-a-kind village that houses 22 teams. But it already seems clear that the bubble approach was the only approach that had any shot in 2020, especially given the challenges Major League Baseball has already faced in its comeback.