The long-anticipated guidelines for safety protocols during the NBA's resumption of the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World have finally been released, and they're about as lengthy and dense as "Moby Dick." This is necessary, of course, to provide players and anyone else coming to the bubble with strict guidelines and expectations that hopefully prevent the contraction and potential spread of COVID-19.
While most of the rules make perfect sense and are clearly designed with the health and safety of everyone involved as the priority, there are definitely some eyebrow-raisers. A document obtained by CBS Sports outlines the full set of procedures, so we've used that, plus reports, to hand out some superlatives from the extensive list of details. Just a few things to contemplate as we eagerly await the July 30 resumption date.
Most likely to be broken
"Additionally, players and team staff must avoid engaging in the following behaviors during practices (or, at the applicable Phase, scrimmages or games):
- Spitting or clearing their nose on the court
- Wiping the ball with their jersey
- Licking hands (and touching other items, such as shoes or the basketball)
- Playing with or unnecessarily touching their mouthguard (and touching other items)"
Oh boy. Good luck with this one. You might not realize it unless you're constantly scrutinizing player behavior or watching hours and hours of game video (like some of us), but players engage in these suddenly prohibited behaviors all the time -- usually without even realizing it. Luckily Stephen Curry, known for incessantly chewing and handling his mouthpiece throughout games, won't be in the bubble, but one of the most devout fingertip-licking, nail-biting, hand-blowing, jersey-touching culprits is none other than Lakers superstar LeBron James. We also saw his teammate, Anthony Davis, regrettably, lick his fingers before high-fiving teammates shortly before the shutdown in March.
Granted, Davis' move was just plain weird, but there will be plenty of subconscious and routine behaviors that players will be forced to alter if they're going to follow these rules. During the heat of intense games, it's hard to imagine these particular protocols won't be consistently broken.
Hardest to follow
"At all other times [outside of games, practices, meals, etc.], teammates must refrain from unnecessary physical contact (e.g., high fives, handshakes, fist bumps, hugs) and maintain at least six feet of distance from each other ..."
Assuming that most players aren't going to use the optional "proximity alarm" that notifies them if they're within six feet of another person on campus (who also must be wearing the alarm), it's going to be extremely difficult for players to keep an appropriate distance from their bubble-mates. It's going to be nearly impossible for players to break muscle memory of giving their teammates a handshake or a hug when they see them around "campus," particularly if they're engaged in a heated card game or a 2K battle. Short of carrying around tape measures or wearing inflated inner tubes around their waists, it's going to take some serious discipline and attention to detail to keep six feet apart in the bubble.
The Mean Girls 'You Can't Sit With Us' Award
The NBA had to split the 22 teams up into the three Disney hotels on campus somehow. They could have spit some random combinations out of a computer. Maybe gone by the teams' geographical proximity. Instead, they decided to go full-on "Mean Girls" and split up the teams based on their record, according to The Athletic. That's right, the eight best teams get what is presumably the best hotel, the Gran Destino, which sounds like an epic destination from a Lord Byron poem. The other eight playoff teams will be in the Grand Floridian -- clearly adding the "d" to Gran makes the hotel slightly less classy. So where do the six teams not currently in playoff position stay? The Yacht Club ... womp, womp.
This could be the NBA's way of giving the better regular-season teams some sort of advantage, but it just reeks of high school clique-ism. The divide is exacerbated by the fact that players are instructed to have as little contact as possible with players from other hotels until July 21, providing ample foundation for the "cool" game room to develop at the Gran Destino, while the Yacht Club is stuck playing Dungeons and Dragons in the basement.
"Individuals must shower in their individual hotel rooms. (Showers will not be available at the Wide World of Sports Complex.)"
It makes total sense that players won't be allowed to shower at arenas or practice facilities, but that doesn't make it any less gross. This means after games and practices, sweaty players will be transported back to their rooms in all their pungency. If only there were a way to describe the smell ...
Hopefully, the shuttle drivers have been equipped with nose plugs in addition to facemasks.
Most likely to cause a fight
This is just a report for now and isn't necessarily in the official rules, but the idea of players reporting each other to NBA authorities is oddly entertaining and potentially problematic. Let's say Player X gets a warning from the league about a reported violation of bubble protocol -- suddenly it's a full-on witch hunt trying to figure out who made the anonymous call. Players will be called into a hotel ballroom one-by-one, as they're interrogated by Benoit LeBlanc until a hypothesis is confirmed and the rat is exposed.
OK it probably won't be that extreme, but if a Western Conference team can get LeBron kicked out of Disney after 52 anonymous tips, it's not out of the realm of possibilities. Players will already be on edge due to cabin fever, so suspicion will be at an all-time high if one of these anonymous reports actually leads to disciplinary action.
Most entertainment potential
According to The Athletic, players will be allowed to attend other teams' games, which opens up all sorts of heckling possibilities never before imagined. Picture an empty arena, devoid of any crowd noise or blaring music. Sixers guard Ben Simmons, freed from the self-consciousness brought on by fan reaction, decides to raise up for a rare transition 3-pointer. Just before he lets loose, however, a lone, bellowing baritone voice from the stands shouts, "HELL NO!" The shot airballs and Simmons retreats to his jumper-free cocoon.
Highlighted in clips from "The Last Dance," talking trash is an essential part of the game, and is even more entertaining when you can actually hear it. We'll see how willing players are to engage in it from the stands, rather than on the court.