Picture this: You awaken in what has become your new home over the last few weeks. Welcome to ‘Groundhog Day’.
The first step each morning is to face-scan into the NBA My Health app in order to lift the restrictions and begin your day. The in-app questionnaire is simple and only takes a few minutes to complete, but the data tracking is crucial to the health of others and ultimately, the success of the NBA bubble.
The questions begin. “Have you experienced any of the following symptoms? Please select all that apply. Do you have a cough? Shortness of breath? Fever and chills? Muscle and body aches? Headaches? Sore throat? Loss of taste or smell? Diarrhea? Nausea? Vomiting? Fatigue? Congestion? Runny nose?”
All clear? Next up is the temperature and oxygen saturation level check. The NBA has supplied everyone with an under-tongue thermometer as well as a pulse oximeter in order for you to check your vitals and ensure you can safely go about your day. Temperatures that read too high or oxygen saturation levels that are too low can serve as early indications that someone who may have contracted COVID-19.
Your morning symptom check is complete and you can begin gearing up for the remainder of the day. While pregame fits and designer fashion have become a staple of the NBA community in recent years, new accessories have been added to the mix.
The mask is clearly an essential part of the look, as to be expected, but it’s just the beginning of the many precautions and protocols the NBA has in place to keep everybody safe within the bubble. Get married to the game with the Ōura ring that tracks your sleep, physical activity and heart rate in order to provide an early detection tool for potential COVID-19 cases. Add some Disney magic to your style with the Mickey Mouse bracelet around your wrist that doubles as the ultimate gate keep to decide who enters and leaves all locations. You must scan the bracelet at all entrances and exits for hotels and gyms. If it’s green, you’re good to go. If it’s blue, the person at the door will stop you for either not filling out your morning questionnaire or because of a potential positive COVID-19 test. Lastly, throw on your credential that is paired with a sensory dongle that will loudly alert you if you come within six feet of any ‘resident’ not in your party.
Congratulations! You’re now officially able to leave your room and begin your day.
If you’re hungry, now is probably a good time to get a bite to eat. Following the first few days after arrival, the food hall opened up, providing a two-hour window to grab some grub, sit and converse with one another or take the food back to your room. While most meal plans are based off the individual team’s recommendations, if that doesn’t interest you, you have the option to order room service instead for an additional fee.
Each team is granted a three-hour practice time slot earlier in the day, followed by an option shootaround and open gym later in the evening. Outside of players being spaced apart on the bench and the coaches being equipped with masks at all times, it’s business as usual once the team hits the hardwood.
Practice is followed up by the daily COVID-19 tests. Both nasal and oral tests are given each day in order to ensure that all players, coaches and staff are free to roam around the campus without putting themselves or others at risk.
In between basketball sessions, you receive full reign over how you’d like to spend your day in sunny Orlando, Florida. While many players take shelter safely in their own rooms playing video games, the Disney World campus is equipped with spike ball, fishing, cornhole, ping pong, golf and much more to keep all entertained while also allowing natural bonding moments for teams.
Feel free to return to the gym for a late-night session or hit the hay early in order to make sure your body is well rested. Either way, we start at the top again tomorrow.
Phoenix Suns Sr. Director of Health & Performance Brady Howe is tasked with sending the daily texts every morning to remind all the Suns personnel to check their vitals, fill out their app and equip themselves with the necessary devices to begin their day following accordance with NBA protocols.
“It's all for the greater good in the grand scheme of things,” Howe said. “There's a bunch of hoops to jump through every day. For me personally, I've had to take a deep look into this because it's my responsibility to assure that everybody's health and safety is first and foremost being taken care of.”
Normally more focused on the training and performance aspects of his job, Howe’s role dramatically shifted the moment that the season was put on pause. Howe’s focus turned to the medical side, researching ways to combat the virus, educating the team and preparing for the elaborate guidelines inside the bubble.
“The protocols the NBA has in place, they're extensive, but rightfully so,” Howe said. “This is an overwhelming and confusing virus that we still are learning so much about that you have to be overly precautious and you would rather be on the safe side of a pandemic than the gambling side. What the NBA has done is phenomenal. They've set up a lot of safety measures that benefit us.”
Working with the teams and health experts to carefully plan each piece of the bubble, the NBA did their due diligence in order to provide the safest solution to carry out the remainder of the season. Just as the planning on the NBA’s side was extensive, the individual teams each had to prepare to enter into a world of unknowns.
“It's probably been the most challenging part of my career, honestly,” said Jay Gaspar, Suns Manager of Equipment Operations who has been a part of the franchise for over 30 years. “You're packing as if it's a training camp or even a Summer League on steroids because you technically could be here until October. That's what you're hoping to do. So, you're sending stuff way ahead, pallets of gear, pallets of training supplies to the hotel. It's not like a normal road trip.”
Just about two hours South at IMG Academy in Bradenton, the Phoenix Mercury find themselves in a very similar situation. The WNBA has set up identical protocols in their bubble, affectionately known as the Wubble, as they prepare to tip-off their 2020 season.
It has been a big adjustment for All-Star Brittney Griner to get situated in her new home for the next few months, needing to adapt to the unique environment that surrounds her.
“You go from being in your home and being able to do normal things. Now, you have masks everywhere, literally everywhere,” Griner said. “There are protocols with everything. Just adjusting to living in the bubble. We are practicing and the other teams are on the other courts. You can hear them. We’re sharing weight rooms with other teams, training rooms. So, it’s just a different adjustment, a different mindset, but with that being said, I definitely feel like I can play basketball here, easily.”
Back in Orlando, the Suns All-Star also understands the guidelines in place and is willing to play his part in order to keep others safe and get back on the court.
“My job is to keep my head down and keep working, tunnel vision for me,” Devin Booker said. “I am praying for everybody’s safety, their health, for them and their families. Let’s make sure that everybody’s safe and take the actions that we need to do.”
While there has been plenty of speculation when it comes to bubble-life and the worry that some may feel ‘trapped’, the Suns are simply relieved to get back to basketball with a chance to prove themselves on the world wide stage.
“Being back on the court, we feel unleashed,” Booker said. “That’s always going to put a smile on my face, getting a chance to compete. I haven’t seen a lot of the guys in a long time. This is our catching up time. We’re getting a lot of time together. It’s been fun.”
The daily routine has set in for Booker and his teammates as they inch closer and closer to resuming play.
“Days just consist of practice and getting to know yourself,” Booker said. “A lot of down time in the room. Practices are three-hour slots with the option of coming back later at night. It’s real training camp vibes. Just practicing and hanging out in the room for me, a lot of Call of Duty.”
This time of seclusion may not be a typical aspect of these players’ schedules, but the Suns are embracing it with open arms knowing it provides them the opportunity to once again come together to battle on the hardwood.
“I like being inside anyways,” sophomore swingman Mikal Bridges said. “Besides going outside to work out, I’m always inside. I don’t really have a problem with that. I’m used to going out to dinner. I love Chipotle. I’m used to getting that all the time. So, that’s a little bit of an adjustment, but it kind of reminds me of college. You stay at a hotel after every game. You get closer together, just be together at all times.”
Whether it’s teaming up and going head-to-head against each other in spikeball or sitting down for a team movie night, the Suns are using this opportunity to help build team chemistry. The quality time has not only brought the team closer together, but has allowed new signee Cam Payne to get acquainted with his teammates quicker than in a normal situation.
“It’s pretty easy because we kind of have the same schedule over and over,” Payne said. “Going and eating with the team every day and just learning what they do off the court, how they are off the court, it helps the on-court intangibles. Being able to talk to one another, it’s helping me learn about them even more. Eating lunch together, walking back and forth to the bus, walking to the hotel rooms, stuff like that that you really wouldn’t get being at home in a regular schedule.”
Head Coach Monty Williams and much of the roster are still technically in their first season with the Suns. So, this time away from all distractions provides the team valuable time together while building the foundation for the franchise.
“It’s very important,” Booker said. “I think this is unique. Even training camp before the season is usually four-to-five days. Getting this quality time together, over a month of training, not just basketball. We’re in the rooms together. We’re doing a lot of activities together. We watched the team movie. It’s a lot of down time, a lot of time to put in work and I think that’s good. Everybody’s fresh and has brought great energy to practice. The competition level has been very high.”
Nothing brings a team closer together than winning and battling during the playoffs. The NBA is providing a secluded, playoff-like atmosphere and the Suns are looking to make the most of this opportunity.
“I think it’s good,” Cam Johnson said. “I’m happy I just get to be with my guys on the court, instead of being in a lot of one-on-one atmospheres. Just the fact that we’re back playing again, I’m really appreciative of it.”
The Suns are the youngest of the 22 teams invited to Orlando and are looking to use that youth to their advantage. While there has been some concern that players could feel too trapped in the bubble, the Suns big man doesn’t see it being an issue for him and his teammates.
“I'm a kid,” Ayton said. “I'm going to have my video games and I'm going to have my phone. I'd love to see my family, but I've been around them long enough in quarantine. I'm just ready, man. I'm just ready to play basketball. I'm ready to see us on TV. It's history to be made. It was a pause in our career. We've just got to get this thing going.”
Next up, basketball. The Suns are just a week away from officially tipping-off the season restart against the Washington Wizards on July 31.
“It's going to really move things along,” Gaspar said. “I think this has been a training camp period these last two weeks. Everybody's stuck in a rut. Even the players are kind of getting that itch to go against each other, going against different teams. I think it's the same for the staff. You want to start working games, then you get in a normal game day routine of shoot around and a game. It's going to be more challenging, but at the same time, it's going to be a lot of fun.”
The odds may seem intimidating for the Suns to pull off a potential all-time historic upset, but the team feels fortunate to have the opportunity to play and is energized to finally take the court together.
“All the guys are really excited to be back and get a chance to fight,” Dario Šarić said. “Time to get one more dance before the season is done. We’ve been working hard through these ten days. Back in Phoenix we’ve been working hard for months. Now, we’ve got a chance to play the game, enjoy the moment and execute the game plan.”
For a more in-depth visual inside the bubble, tune-in this Sunday on the Suns YouTube Channel at 1:30 p.m. as we take you behind-the-scenes in this week’s episode of “Don’t Sleep on Basketball.”
Don’t Sleep on Basketball is a content series that captures the unprecedented times we’re facing through the lens of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury. Basketball sits at the intersection of culture, entertainment and sport, which puts the Suns & Mercury organization in the perfect position to serve as participant, voyeur and storyteller during this unparalleled era. The dynamic initiative is available across multiple mediums, including FOX Sports Arizona, Suns and Mercury social channels, YouTube, and editorially on Suns.com.