Alex Martins Confident in Health and Safety Protocols at Walt Disney World

Magic arrived at Disney on Tuesday and are expected to have first team practice on Thursday following 48-hour quarantine
by John Denton

ORLANDO - Expressing his utmost confidence in an NBA restart plan that he played a role in helping to formulate alongside Commissioner Adam Silver and various medical professionals, Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins made a bold claim on Wednesday while discussing the health and well-being of NBA players, coaches and staffers who will be quarantined and sequestered at Disney World over the next few months.

``I’m confident in the protocols in place, I’m confident in all of the safety measures that the league has put in place and, again, I would reiterate that I believe all our players, coaches and staff are safer in the Disney campus than they would be at home in their communities,’’ said Martins, who served on one of the NBA’s restart committees that planned out many of the details for the campus-style environment at nearby Disney World.

The Magic were the first team to test out the safety of the NBA’s restart plan by arriving in unison at Disney World on Tuesday. They were the first of six NBA squads to get to Disney for a sequestered stay that will last a minimum of 38 days and one that could potentially stretch until the middle of October. Magic players, coaches and staffers – who have all been tested every other day for the COVID-19 virus for the past month – were scheduled to spend their first 48 hours on campus in quarantine before holding their first practice since mid-March on Thursday afternoon.

In the coming days, 22 of the league’s 30 teams – nine from the Eastern Conference and 13 from the West – will start to call Disney home. After periods of being quarantined and tested, those teams will hold training-camp style practice sessions, play three scrimmages apiece and finish out the regular season with eight ``seeding games’’ from July 30-April 13. Then, the top eight teams from each conference will start the traditional four-round, best-of-seven playoffs that will end in an NBA champion if all goes as planned. The only caveats are that there will be no fans in attendance for the games and home-court advantages will be null and void at Disney’s neutral site.

``This is going to be one of the greatest challenges that our champion will have ever gone through,’’ Martins said. ``That’s why it’s important that we’re going to play a couple of scrimmages that won’t count in the standings. And that’s why, I believed, that it was important to play more `seeding games,’ as we’ve termed them, to prepare for the playoffs so that ultimately on our biggest stage during our biggest part of the year our teams will have worked their way back up into playing shape.

``So, it’s a huge challenge and I think it is one of the greatest challenges that our players, coaches and staffs have gone through in their careers,’’ Martins added. ``I think it will ultimately crown a champion that has gone over hurdles and challenges that, quite frankly, no other champion has gone through. I don’t think there’s any asterisks to this season whatsoever and I think this is going to be the toughest championship to win, in the end.’’

The Magic, 30-35 and seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference when the NBA was abruptly suspended on March 11 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, arrived at Disney World on Tuesday dressed in black T-shirts designed to try and raise awareness about voting as a means to bring about social change in the country. The T-shirts, which read ``GET OFF THE BENCH, GET INTO THE GAME, VOTE,’’ could soon be made available to the public for purchase following the outpouring of support they received from fans who saw Magic players, coaches and staffers donning the gear, Martins said.

The CEO and the Magic have come out strongly in favor of players peacefully protesting and working to find ways to stamp out racism and social injustice in the Central Florida community. As for the Magic, they recently developed a social justice task force among their staff to determine ways that the franchise can have a greater impact in terms of initiating change in the Central Florida community.

``Is it raising money for certain causes? It is trying to impact poverty in our black community? Is it trying to impact jobs in our black communities or disparity in education?’’ Martins asked. ``As an organization, we’re not going to dictate that, but it’s going to be a bottom-up approach from our staff. … This is not an issue the Orlando Magic are going to tackle alone because we can’t do it all alone. We have to be good partners with a lot of other good community groups, particularly with those in our black communities. … We’re going to be using our (NBA) restart as a platform to engage our country in conversation and, most importantly, to try to create substantive change through policy.’’

For now, however, the most pressing concern of the NBA – and the Magic, in particular – is about how to best keep players, coaches and staffers sequestered at Disney safe from another outbreak of the coronavirus as infection numbers throughout Florida continue to spike. In the previous month that players were allowed back into NBA practice facilities, players and coaches were tested for the virus every other day and regularly questioned about their health.

The Magic did have one unnamed player test positive for the coronavirus in the days leading up to Tuesday, and that player was immediately isolated away from the team and not allowed to travel to the Disney campus, President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said on Tuesday. His hope is that the unidentified player will soon be allowed to rejoin the squad at Disney before regular-season games begin on July 30. (Standout point guard Markelle Fultz also was not with the team while dealing with a non-COVID-19-related personal matter.)

Martins lauded Silver and the NBA league office for the extensive plan and multi-layered safety protocols put in place to try and keep players safe from the virus while at Disney. Martins said the NBA consulted with epidemiologists and doctors from Columbia University Medical Center, Duke University and Johns Hopkins University in devising a plan that will hopefully keep the group of players, coaches and staffers safe even if a few random outbreaks.

``That’s not to say that we’re going to go through this entire time and not see somebody test positive because, in my mind anyway, that’s unrealistic,’’ Martins said. ``But the protocols are in place to sequester them, to quarantine them and to the test them so that when they do get back into a negative state of the virus that they can rejoin their teams. Everybody knows what they are in for, to a certain extent. But nobody knows how it’s going to play itself out on a day-by-day basis, but most everyone is up to the challenge and is excited about playing NBA basketball again.’’

Martins began and ended his wide-ranging, 31-minute virtual session with the media on Wednesday with the same message – that people in NBA communities and across the country can do their part in helping curb the spread of the virus by practicing good hygiene habits and social distancing methods. Once the virus is dramatically tamped down – or eradicated completely – fans will once again be able to attend games and enjoy NBA basketball among sold-out crowds in venues such as the state-of-the-art Amway Center in downtown Orlando.

``A successful execution here (with the NBA restart at Disney) also sends a message to our fans and the rest of the country that if we do practice safety measures at the highest levels that we really can slow this virus and get to a day where we eradicate it,’’ said Martins, who playfully donned a Magic-themed mask for a short period of time during the call. ``It’s really, really important for everybody to follow these safety protocols, to socially distance and to wear a mask so that we do slow the virus.

``My hope is that this is going to send a great message to our fans and the rest of the country that with safety measures in place that we can continue our NBA season, finish our NBA season and ultimately get to the new normal in life as long as we all do our part,’’ Martins added.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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