ORLANDO — Room 4156 of the Coronado Springs Resort is at the end of a hallway overlooking an empty parking lot and a small lake which appears to have an alligator swimming in it.
Doesn’t matter. I can’t get near the reptile even if I wanted to (confession: I don’t), because starting yesterday through 11:59 pm next Sunday, I’m in quarantine, unable to leave the room unless the fire alarm goes off. And even then, there’d better be smoke.
The NBA isn’t fooling around with this restart or any chances of coronavirus sneaking into the campus. The league is playing a level of leak-proof lockdown defense that has Kawhi Leonard taking notes. It’s reassuring, no doubt, how every precaution is being taken to protect staff, players, coaches and anyone else invited to the Disney lab during this pandemic, even a select handful of reporters, which means somebody does care about us after all.
Here’s how the check-in went: Upon arrival, and once you get past two security guards who don’t smile, you’re led straight to the ballroom, given an electronic wristband that magically opens your hotel room door, escorted to that room, and ordered to stay inside until 2021. Well, not quite, but it’ll seem that way by Wednesday. My TV remote control needed batteries, and a technician knocked on the door. When I opened it, he stood 10 feet away. Two more steps backward and that gator had a snack. The tech refused to enter the room until I left. Again: This might be one of the few places in Florida, which had a record day in cases Sunday, taking this virus seriously.
Wait, there’s another knock: It’s COVID-19 testing time.
The tester, wearing a hazmat suit, sticks one swab down my throat and another through both nostrils. She says, reassuringly: “I won’t go all the way up your nose” which makes me, ahem, breathe easy. Thank goodness there was no finger prick; that’s the worst. The next test will be after quarantine. During my time on campus, tests and temperature will be taken regularly. If I test positive, I’ll be back home cutting the grass.
The accommodations are fine. The room is 12 by 18 feet with two beds, a small fridge and enough floorspace to do pushups, jumping jacks and maybe four lunges. The AC unit makes July in Orlando seem like January in Juneau. It’s not the Ritz but I once stayed in a roadside motel in Morgan City, La., (long story) and nothing compares to that.
Oh, there’s another knock at the door: Dinner. A few players have taken to social media to talk about the food, which is actually tasty, but it’s all relative. The players live a first-class lifestyle and have long progressed to lobster and champagne and are beyond those among us still hoping for steak on a burger budget. Whenever I’ve forgotten where I came from, my taste buds gently remind me about having to eat mustard sandwiches (long ago story).
So this is the new life, separated from family and friends, preparing for a week on lockdown, followed by months of unlocking the remaining mysteries of the 2019-20 interrupted NBA season, starting with: Does LeBron James win a third title with a third team? I’ve been doing this job for a minute and it has taken me to Greece, Tokyo, Australia, Scotland, Paris, South Africa, London and Morgan City, among other intriguing places, on assignment. This is a new one.
Which means: If you’re lucky to stay in this business long enough, someday you’ll eventually report on a sport that had to force quit for over three months, lose many millions of dollars, huddle with scientists, carve out a protective campus on the Disney property, lean on the guts and conviction of a great commissioner, gather 22 teams together and continue the season.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you now get to see four walls, and nothing more, for one week. And there’s no other place you’d rather be.
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