Orlando Magic enter the unknown at home: Life in the bubble

Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic is confident the environment in the bubble will make players feel at home. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic is confident the environment in the bubble will make players feel at home. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic might technically be the “home” team, but they will be the same as everyone else: Entering an uncertain new life inside the bubble.

Nikola Vucevic has already thought at least some about how he is going to pack for the Orlando Magic’s upcoming trip to Disney.

The NBA champion, whoever that ends up being, will be staying at a Disney hotel potentially from July 7 until October 18. That will be nearly three months away from their homes. Families will not be able to join teams until after the first round — and then they will go through their own round of testing and quarantine to join teams on the Disney campus.

In addition to getting in shape and something resembling playing shape and conditioning, players are now worried about the next thing: How do you pack for a three-month road trip?

Especially when oversized shoes take up a lot of space in a duffel bag.

Players will be able to have items shipped into the bubble if they forget anything, but everyone is responsible for taking care of themselves — including additional entertainment options. There could be a lot of video game consoles stashed away in bags to hook up in everyone’s rooms.

But there is still a toll that will be charged mentally on players as they self-isolate to finish the season. This is something completely different.

Even for the Magic.

They will be close to home, but they will not be home. It is not like they can give other teams insider tips on life at The Grand Floridian — what Orlando resident goes through their except on the monorail to the Magic Kingdom theme park or for a wedding?

The stark reality is there is nothing to compare this to. Life in the bubble will be something completely different.

"“Honestly for me from the beginning, I knew if the NBA was going to finish the season off they were going to do it in a very safe way,” Nikola Vucevic said on a ZOOM call with media Wednesday. “I knew they would never do anything that would put players or coaches in harm’s way.“Once the idea of the bubble started, there are going to be things that will be difficult about it — we will be away from family, we aren’t going to be able to do any activities outside of there, we are going to be stuck in there for a couple of months. But it’s the safest way to do it. It’s not ideal, but I think it’s the best solution.”"

Safety is still on the forefront of a lot of players’ minds for sure. Several players have already backed out of playing in the bubble over concerns about COVID-19 and being away from family. The league is asking for an incredible sacrifice from its players.

As much as the NBA will try to paint this return as trying to give some normalcy to its fans — which it definitely will — there is no denying that there are some extreme financial incentives for both the league and the players to make sure this season gets completed.

The NBA is hoping it has created conditions that will keep the virus out and give players a semblance of normalcy.

But it is not this that will be the biggest challenge. Teams and players will have to create a new normal on this isolated campus. They will have to carve out a new life in the bubble.

A sacrifice for the players

For players like Nikola Vucevic, heading to the bubble will be quite the sacrifice.

The last three months have given fathers like Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross and D.J. Augustin the chance to be with their kids for a significant time.

Typically during the season, players are in and out of the home. Outside of a few longer road trips, they can usually count on seeing their families after a couple of days.

This is an incredible sacrifice for them. Vucevic said one of the positives of the hiatus was the chance to spend more time with his one-year-old son.

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They are now giving up that time with family and loved ones. Even the short trips home are a respite from the season many players throughout the league will not have anymore.

"“For me, that’s going to be the most difficult part,” Vucevic said. “It is what it is. We all have to make the sacrifice and go and do our job and finish the season. I’m sure that for most players, especially the ones who have families and kids, it will not be easy. It is what it is. We just have to accept it as another challenge and make the best of it while we are there.”"

But the desire to compete is still what is driving the team. They want to finish the season and get their crack at the Playoffs again. There seems like some unfinished business.

Creating a new normal will be the difficult part.

Life in the bubble

The details of what life will be like in the bubble are still emerging. When players arrive at their hotel, they will be isolated in their rooms until they test negative for COVID-19 twice. After that, training camps can begin — as early as July 9.

Inside the hotel, players will be restricted to the NBA’s area inside the hotel. That will include a player’s lounge that will have games and other activities. Plus the league will make personal services like manicurists and barbers available too.

It is going to take some time for players to settle in. But once the games start, Vucevic said he believes things will start to feel a bit more normal. That will take everyone’s minds off the monotony and restrictions within the bubble.

Players are already preparing for what they will do with their downtime in the bubble. That is part of what they will be packing for this extended road trip.

"“It’s going to be something none of us have been used to or ready for,” Markelle Fultz said in a ZOOM meeting with media members on Monday. “I’ve kind of been thinking about it is like an AAU tournament. Sometimes you have tournaments in your hometown and you still stay in the hotel.“I’ve been trying to think positively about it and think of ways I can occupy myself while staying safe. Maybe playing video games, maybe doing things with my teammates while practicing social distancing. It’s going to be a challenge. That’s what is going to make it fun for me and also for some of my teammates. It’s also kind of nerve-wracking not knowing how it’s going to be.”"

Life inside the bubble is going to be very different. And, for sure, the NBA is going to be making adjustments on the fly as they learn what conditions are like on the ground.

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It will have that collegial feel — thus the NBA’s preferred use of the “campus setting” term rather than a bubble. But even that is not perfect.

Undoubtedly life will be different.

Concern and calm

Even with cases on the rise still in Central Florida — and Orange County specifically — players do not seem too concerned. The NBA and NBPA have done a good job trying to educate players and alleviate any concerns that their bubble will be able to keep the virus out.

The rigorous testing the league seems ready to implement will do its best to root out any outbreaks early. Vucevic said he was feeling more comfortable the more the league revealed details.

But there is still some trepidation over what this will actually look like when the team arrives next week.

There is still some concern over what the play will look like too.

Teams and players will have a compressed timeline to get training camp in and back into playing shape before the seeding games begin July 30 — July 31 for the Magic. It feels like a lot of teams can throw out what happened when the season went on pause.

It feels like how teams will be able to play will not be something they can figure out too until they get inside the bubble and on the campus.

The play might have some rough moments for sure as players try to get back in shape. Nobody knows how players will cope with being inside a hotel room for this long. There is at least some thought teams eliminated from contention could pack it in.

Everyone will be at a different place as things get started.

Next. Markelle Fultz understands what it means to stay ready. dark

At this point, the early part of the training camp will not just be about getting players in shape, but getting them comfortable with their new surroundings.