First Day in the Bubble

ON JULY 8, Thunder players got dropped off at the ION, the team’s practice facility, with their protective face masks on all the luggage they’ll need for Orlando in tow.

Over a 30-45 minute window, players dropped their bags to get tagged and placed onto a truck bound for the airport, had their temperatures taken and waited their turn to get into the busses.

Because of the nature of the ION workouts over the past week, some of the players hadn’t seen others in person since March, so there were many sweet reunions taking place.

The Thunder’s chefs had prepared meals waiting for the players, so not surprisingly Steven Adams made sure to stock up with extra bags of deliciousness.

The players loaded up on one bus, while the coaches and other staff had their own bus to spread out in to take from the ION down to Will Rogers World Airport on the southwest side of OKC. The coaches and staff got a head start, filing in one by one through TSA security so that they were all boarded the plane before the players arrived. As the players’ bus pulled into the airport, graphic billboards saying “OKC in ORL” and “Bring the Thunder” greeted them, providing an extra bounce in their step as they walked on to the plane.

On a typical Thunder charter flight, players sit two to a row in extra-large seats and even have a set of four chairs that face one another across a table. For this flight, however, the scene looked much more like a normal passenger jet. In order to keep everyone spaced apart, each player, coach and staffer got their own row, with space in between.

After a two hour and 10-minute flight, Disney Cruise Line busses waited immediately outside the plane on the tarmac. The drive to the Grand Floridian Hotel went smoothly as the Thunder officially entered the bubble.

Some NBA photographers awaited near the entrance to the hotel, as Thunder players had their first “walk-in” photos since March 11. The team immediately entered an NBA orientation, which included a designated team liaison to help with any needs that arise specifically for the Thunder within the bubble. As the NBA personnel laid out the plan, Thunder guard Chris Paul’s name kept popping up. He’s the President of the NBA Players’ Association, meaning that he had major input on approving much of the protocols the league lined up. The orientation detailed the medical plan upon the initial arrival, with COVID testing commencing with a span of 36-to-48 hours in isolation for each member of the traveling party.

Each person received a bracelet, that will be taken off by league officials once they are cleared with two negative tests. Thunder personnel also received a Thunder-branded Disney Magic Band, which allows touch-free access to rooms and buildings. Once cleared medically, every member of the Thunder will receive a credential which contains a sensor which notifies you if you are within six feet of someone else’s credential.

Through the NBA Campus app, players, coaches and staff will be logging their temperatures and pulse oximetry information daily, with green-yellow-red codes for whether they have been cleared to leave their rooms.

As soon as the orientation concluded, everyone was sent directly to their rooms with dinner and their bags delivered to thereafter. The Thunder got settled in, hopefully for the long haul. It was time to start making a home out of the Grand Floridian, the place the team will live for at least two months and possibly into September and October.


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