ORLANDO, Fla. — My colleague Sekou Smith is about to be released from NBA quarantine soon and since he won’t know what’ll hit him besides sunshine and humidity at first, I should fill him in on what’s up around here.
First: Don’t miss coronavirus testing.
Second: Don’t miss coronavirus testing.
Once he follows those orders, he’ll be exposed to another world here in this basketball ecosystem. It’s not perfect; nothing ever is. The NBA worked without a parachute and a blueprint while devising a way to continue the season on this campus, collect that all-important TV revenue, and keep everyone safe. But by and large, this operation is a success so far, because of the high level of basketball performances and non-existent number of positive tests.
So here’s what Sekou will discover once he gets his equilibrium and his wits following a week locked inside a small hotel room, and my advice for him:
• This is a basketball paradise, an NCAA tournament in one place, only with superior players and better refereeing. The chance to see multiple NBA teams on a single day, either playing a game or practicing it, is once-in-a-lifetime stuff. Luxuriate in it.
• Being inside the arena will seem surreal at first, with no fans or halftime acts and an atmosphere that’s largely artificially created. But the noise created by emotional players and coaches and shifting sneakers is very real and pure. Bring your ears as well as your eyes and they will be treated to the sounds of basketball.
• Don’t worry about stepping on a gecko even if dozens will scatter in your path every day once you open your door. Those reptilian critters are quicker than a juicy rumor.
• Always bring a jacket to Florida in summertime because they overdo it on the air conditioning. You go from sauna to Siberia in a hurry.
• Don’t waste your time requesting a one-on-one interview with LeBron James. King don’t do those. Not yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week or next year. Not here, either.
• But do spend time with Jaylen Brown of the Celtics. It’ll be more meaningful. He’s thoughtful, smart, well-versed and beyond his years. You might even talk basketball with him.
• Kyle Speller, who’s employed by the Nuggets, is one of four NBA public address announcers invited to voice these games. His enthusiasm and signature style — yeeahhhbaby! — is Rucker Park-like and will turn you into a huge fan.
• The teams normally practice on courts installed at the Coronado hotel ballroom and the hallways to those courts make for some, um, interesting if not uncomfortable path-crossing scenes. The morning after the Raptors beat the Celtics on a buzzer-beater, both teams held practice just a few dozen yards away from each other, roughly at the same time. There wasn’t much acknowledging by players en route.
• You will have chicken as a meal choice on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and probably Saturday.
• Do not, under any circumstances, wear a suit or button-down shirt to work. You will get clowned. Dress down like the coaches and your fellow media folk and blend in.
• Rent a bike, even you haven’t ridden one in years. Pedaling will be therapeutic and a good way to clear your head and prepare for the busy day. Make sure to say hello to the power-walking Heat coach on the road that laps the hotel. Erik Spoelstra starts his rounds at roughly 9 am daily.
• There’s a big lake at the hotel so go ahead and grab a rod, although there’s a rumor going around that everyone catches the same one fish.
• Pace yourself, plan accordingly, use time management and make every day count. Understand that this bold experiment by the NBA isn’t sustainable. The price is too steep — around $175 million? — and the sacrifices made by everyone involved is too great. And this is just for 22 invited teams over four months, not 30 teams and 82 games plus post-season.
• Finally: Make full use of this chance to reconnect socially with your NBA family, meaning players, coaches, media, league employees, etc. Been a long time since you last saw them. With this pandemic, who knows when you’ll see them again?
My time here is done. This assignment from the basketball gods was an honor and pleasure. After two-plus months, I’m headed home. But first, I’m checking my luggage for any gecko castaways.
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