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No fans in the building apart from virtual fans on the video blog. So there's piped in crowd noise both in the arena and on television. So they've gone to great lengths to try to create some atmosphere in here, here in the NBA bubble. It's surreal, really. There's never been an NBA postseason like this. From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is a daily. So the game just tipped off game is underway today to finish its regular season and reach the playoffs this week.
The NBA has undertaken a social and medical experiment unlike anything in the history of sports.
My colleague Mark Stein on life inside the NBA bubble, please.
It's Friday, August 21st. Mark, just to begin with, tell me where you are. I am at the Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World in what is known as. The NBA bubble, there's three hotels that house teams, and then I'm in the fourth hotel that houses the referees, the media, the game operations personnel, all the people who kind of make the bubble go.
So this hotel room is where you now live.
Yeah, behind a big, heavy brown door in my three hundred fourteen square foot hotel room. So, Mark, how did this grand experiment, this bubble, how did it come to be? Well, first you have to understand that this has been a very difficult season for the NBA on a lot of fronts.
So, you know, as a raucous fan, I'm very disappointed. As a Chinese.
I feel in early October, as teams were heading to China for exhibition play, Darroll Murray, general manager of the Houston Rockets NBA team, tweeted, Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong, the general manager of the Houston Rockets.
He posted in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Right.
And big sponsors like Tencent saying that they would suspend live streaming any of the Rockets game. So a lot of money at stake.
It became so costly and controversial for the league's business relationships in China. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, estimated the loss from that tweet to be in the hundreds of millions, hundreds of millions the league lost from one tweet.
So after this very controversial start to the season, heartbreaking news today, David Stern passing away at the age of seventy seven.
David Stern, its longtime former commissioner, died on January 1st. He was a marketing genius, just really grew our brand. And shortly after that, just within weeks.
And we're following very tragic, very sad breaking news.
The NBA legend Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash in the city was the Kobe Bryant tragedy, the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter. Seven other people aboard packed.
Bryant had one of the biggest careers in NBA history.
Starting for his death was just an immeasurable loss for the league.
Right. And as if all that was not enough, then the pandemic strikes, right. So the NBA, it actually has an office in China, so league officials had been tracking the coronavirus pretty aggressively. And just to give you an idea of how quickly this thing did bring the league to a halt on March 11th, it was announced that the Golden State Warriors and the Brooklyn Nets were going to play a game the next day without fans. And I was actually on a plane that night flying to San Francisco because I was assigned to cover that game, which would have been the first in NBA history without fans.
That night, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus in Oklahoma City and the season was suspended. It happened that quick, right? I remember this being one of the first data points for the whole country that the pandemic was going to be very serious and significant.
Was there any thinking at that point, Mark, of well, that's that, you know, coronaviruses here, no season, I guess, will resume play when the pandemic is over.
No question in April and even into May, there was great skepticism in all corners of the league that there just might not be a way to resurrect what's left of the twenty nineteen season. But the reality is.
Like all businesses, there was great financial incentive for all parties in the league to find a way to bring this season to a conclusion. With no playoffs, the NBA would lose an estimated one billion in television revenue. Wow. And the way NBA finances work, it's a 50 50 revenue split between the teams and its players. So if that one billion in revenue is lost, the players shoulder 50 percent of that in lost salaries.
I mean, there's literally a billion reasons why everybody involved in the sport would want to make sure that they could keep playing right. So for all the financial incentive that all these parties had, it then becomes a question of how do you pull this off? And that's an even tougher question for a basketball league probably than any other team sport you can name because you're indoors and face to face, very physical, close proximity for more than two hours. And that is something the NBA had to contemplate from the start.
How do you bring everyone back in the middle of a pandemic in conditions that theoretically could promote the spread of the virus?
So what the league did was it it's been in pretty heavy consultation with government health officials and they reached the conclusion that the only way to try this was to construct a so-called bubble, a tightly controlled campus where the league governed everything, who's allowed in, who's allowed out, how and when they're allowed to move to create a village that if everything went well, would at least give them a chance of keeping the virus out and get the season to the finish line.
Right, and of course, once you settle on the bubble, you have to figure out where you're going to build the bubble. The league did get a lot of pitches from a lot of places. But pretty quickly, the NBA zeroed in on two locales, Las Vegas, where the league does a lot of business. And the second option was Disney World.
And that owes greatly to the NBA's very deep relationship with Disney, which owns ESPN.
So you have the business ties, but you also have the layout of Disney World with all the requisite arenas to stage all these games, but also hotel properties for the teams to stay and all of this behind the same set of gates. And so the NBA chose Disney World.
Mark, I'm curious how the NBA sold this to the players, this pitch doesn't sound all that appealing. Hey, we have this great idea. Enter this bubble village, not just for days or weeks, but for months, a whole season. And we we hope you don't get the virus. We can't promise you you won't get the virus. That doesn't sound all that appealing.
It was an undoubtedly tough sell. There's safety concerns. You know, families will not be allowed into the bubble until after the first round of the playoffs at the end of August. So you're asking players to go weeks without seeing anyone from their family and then being a bystander is no longer acceptable.
After the George Floyd killing and when protests took hold nationwide, you saw many NBA players taking part in these protests.
And to do what or no, if you don't speak up on these issues, you part you just as bad.
Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers.
We have a moment in time. People are going to look back. Our kids are going to look back at this and say, you are a part of that. There were so many players who really got involved at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, no matter the color of your skin.
Where are you from? I feel like justice will be served and changes will be made on the right side of the history of. And I think as time wore on, a majority of players basically came to the conclusion that by going to Walt Disney World and seizing upon the platform available, that that could actually amplify their message. Huh. That's really interesting. So in their minds, playing the sport, resuming the season would give them a bigger megaphone to talk about race, talk about police brutality.
And so that becomes an incentive to revive the season.
Ultimately, yes, that's where the majority of players, that's the place they ultimately reached. There are so much media coverage of the NBA use the platform that a resumed NBA season would give by speaking out after games, after practices to really broadcast their message. So with everyone on board, Mark, I wonder if you can set the scene for us of of how this. Actually gets under way, she one on one trip to the bubble of a bubble, so teams started arriving on July 7th.
The top 22 teams in the league were invited to the restart.
They arrive in shifts everywhere, together with bags, literally going to live somewhere.
But basically, by the end of that week, you had more than 800 players, coaches, team staff members ready to spill into the bubble and embark on what's not only the most ambitious sporting experiment we've maybe ever seen in North American team sports, but also a grand social experiment as well.
One goal to win a championship game.
We'll be right back. At this moment, Salesforce is working with businesses all over the world to adapt to all the changes that are happening there, helping people like me and me and me manage through this crisis, return to work safely and grow my business again, visit worktop to get help for your business. If we all work together, we can do this. All right, let's see, how is that hotel bubbles look like that's it. Oh, my God.
Lord, help us.
So, Mark, take us inside of this bubble once the players arrive. What happens tomorrow?
We got to stay here to Saturday, 48 hours.
The first thing is they had to get through their quarantine's first season. Game of Thrones started on a little longer.
Basically, it required any player here to register to negative coronavirus test, which took anywhere from 36 to 48 hours.
I don't have a fork, which was a new and widely uncomfortable experience.
Oh, maybe I'm supposed to use the lid as a spoon. No. Who do I call about this?
And what happens once these players pass these tests and are out of quarantine? Well, priority number one was getting back into basketball shape after a layoff of four plus months with no team activities. But even so, that's only going to consume three, four hours a day, tops. It left a lot of down time to fill and nowhere to go. Tell me about the rules that are in operation for the players inside the bubble. So after the agreement was struck between the NBA and the Players Association to come back, the league assembled a one hundred and thirteen page PDF full of rules and restrictions that would govern bubble life.
For example, if a socially distanced card game takes place for players on any team, they were required to dispose of that deck of cards when the card game was over. If players wanted to play ping pong, they could play singles but not doubles. But the two biggies in that one hundred and thirteen pages are the daily testing for everyone on campus because the league believes that with no vaccine, daily testing essentially operates as the closest thing it has to a vaccine, but also no contact with the outside world.
And for the NBA, that's an absolute. So Richard Holmes of the Sacramento Kings, he was ordered to go back to quarantine for an extra 10 days. And the reason why? Because he arranged a food delivery that was unauthorized and cross the border to pick up that food delivery order, which he later revealed to be an order of chicken wings. And when the league found out Holmes was subjected to an extra 10 days of quarantine all by himself in his room.
And that was kind of a message sent to everyone about how serious the league was taking the restrictions they had put in place.
That is a very costly set of wings, costly in the extreme, because I promise you, you do not want to get set back for extra days in quarantine. I would also say the sense I get from a lot of players is they feel a great responsibility to their teams.
Nobody wants to get themselves in a position where they're not able to play in a playoff game because they broke the rules.
And what about you? How long have you been there now? 40 days.
But who's counting? And what has your non player experience been like as a member of the media?
It's probably most accurate to say that I live in a bubble within the bubble because there's really only one square mile of campus that media members are allowed to visit.
There's a Groundhog Day element to this for media members because every morning starts to say, see if I can get this done, going to my my health app right now, the first thing you have to do when you wake up, you have to record your temperature and your oxygen saturation readings.
Those have to be entered into a league issued health app.
All right. I am connected. I'm at ninety seven point nine, so that's a good reading, my oxygen saturation is also as it should be.
You can't go anywhere in the bubble without those readings being input into a league issued magic band, which is a thick, gray wristband that we all wear like a watch. And you have to scan everywhere any entry point in the bubble.
Now it's time to go get my tests. How are you doing here? Very good. You just. Oh yeah. I got to do the band. Sorry. If you see what this entails is feeling this morning. All right, three very shallow swabs of the throat and one shallow swab of each nostril.
That's it. Thank you. Good to see you, too.
We also have proximity sensors that have to be charged overnight and that we want connect to our credentials, because if you spend more than 10 seconds within six feet of someone, as long as their proximity sensor is charged and your proximity sensor is charged, those alarms will start to chirp after 10 seconds.
And that this is amazing. That's a frequent occurrence on bus rides. We have to take buses from where the media is staying to the game venues. And our proximity sensors tend to create quite a symphony of chirping. And this is also true at postgame interviews because there's no way at a postgame interview to maintain six feet of distance between all the reporters. They're trying to get as close to the players as we're allowed to get. So there's a lot of chirping going on.
Mm hmm. Have you found yourself at all tempted to bend the rules? I can't imagine you haven't.
It's a challenge. There are certainly times when temptation strikes. There was actually one time where I was going to cover an Orlando Magic practice on a Sunday morning, and I was outside the magic practice waiting for admittance. And I was near the Boston Celtics meal room where they were being served a glorious Sunday morning breakfast from a big hotel resort, breakfast station. And as lunch was approaching and they started breaking down the breakfast station, there was this very inviting tub full of crispy bacon that was clearly being taken away to be disposed of.
And I must confess, the thought did cross my mind. Do I risk it all here? Do I try to sneak over there and and get some of that for myself before they take it all away? But I behaved. I refrained, and I'm pretty good at following the rules.
You're talking to a bacon lover, so I very much appreciate this lure, this temptation you're describing.
But with all these rules in place, all these monitoring systems, all this enforcement and in your case, self-restrained, how effectively has all of this worked inside the bubble?
The NBA would tell you that so far their expectations have been exceeded. They're cautiously optimistic that this ambitious plan is working. Teams started getting here on July 7th. Actual games began on July 30th. The playoffs began Monday, August 17th. And players obviously are not wearing masks on the floor. They're playing basketball, as they normally would in very close proximity, sweating all over each other. And the league to this point has returned no confirmed positive test. So so far, more than forty days in it's working.
I have to say that that's pretty astonishing.
It is surprising. But I think it also those numbers reinforce what the NBA believe, that if you didn't take the extreme measures that they've taken, there was no chance at establishing a record like that.
But but, Mark, do you feel like people inside the bubble, especially the players and the staff and the coaches, the people this is really designed to protect? Do you find them grappling with this question of. Essentially, the kind of elite nature of this separateness that they have created, I mean, because outside of that bubble, especially in the state of Florida and beyond, is a world, you know, of tremendous suffering in this moment and exposure to this virus and high transmission rates.
And inside is this truly sealed off, protected zone of very wealthy athletes.
I don't think there's any question that for the league there is an optics component here that that is uncomfortable. I can't really speak for the players, but I know I feel it personally. When I landed here on July 12th, Florida had just recorded a single day state record for positive case. Right. And then as a reporter, I'm being ushered inside a bubble. So for me, getting tested every day, it is a little bit uncomfortable on some levels.
And this does come at a great expense for the NBA. The latest estimate I received was one hundred and eighty million dollars for the league to operate the campus. And not every organization in the world is in position to spend that kind of money to do that. Right? I mean, not at all. I think it's pretty fitting that we keep calling this the bubble. It is a bubble. And it's very fitting that this was constructed inside the magical kingdom because there is something kind of fantasy like about what you were describing and it does not feel replicable for the rest of us.
It feels like something that can be done only by a highly profitable sport. And very well-off athletes, yeah, it's really the NBA's version of it's a small world. It's unprecedented. It's historic. And that's why as a journalist who's covered this league for almost 30 years. I had to be here to see it. But when you look at it critically, it also hits home what a dire state this country is in and the lengths that the NBA has to go to just to get to the finish line of this season.
You know, I have a 17 year old and a 14 year old, and it's quite clear that there isn't going to be a magical bubble that can be created to get them back in their classrooms this fall. And that's a realization that being here hits you every day. This village that the NBA has built, it's not something that can be readily duplicated. It's not something that's going to be available to the masses that so badly need it. Well, Mark, thank you very much, and we'll see you whenever it is you leave the bubble.
Thanks for having me. The first round of the NBA playoffs will continue today with four games scheduled inside of the bubble. Right back. Vanguard was founded on the simple but radical idea that an investment company can succeed because it puts investors first, Vanguard is client owned, you own their funds and the funds own Vanguard, which means Vanguard is built to ensure that your interests will be the priority together. Vanguard's 30 million investors are changing the way the world invests.
Visit Vanguard Dotcom or talk to your financial advisor to learn more. Here's what else you need to know today, on Thursday, federal officials arrested Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to President Trump and the architect of his 2016 election victory on charges of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors. Those donors believed that they were funding the president's signature initiative of building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Instead, according to the charges, Bannon used much of the money for personal expenses, becoming the latest Trump adviser to be charged with a crime.
And good evening, Ella Baker, a giant of the civil rights movement, left us with this wisdom. Give people life and they will find a way to give people like. Those are words for our time, the current president is cloak American darkness for much too long. Too much anger, too much fear, too much division. During the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention, Joe Biden formally accepted his party's nomination for president, promising to end what he described as a dark and deadly chapter in American history here and now.
I give you my word, if you can trust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I'll be an ally of the light, not the darkness.
Biden said he was prepared for a presidency that would confront four crises a virus, widespread unemployment, a racial reckoning and climate change at once, and pledged to restore honor and decency to the White House. American history tells us that has been in our darkest moments, that we made our greatest progress. That we found the light. In this dark moment, I believe we're poised to make great progress again. We can find the light once more. The Daly is made by Feel Welcome, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lindsey Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Tennis Geter, Paige Kowit, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dor, Chris Wood, Jessica Chang, Stella Tannen.
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That's it for The Daily. I'm Michael Barbaro. See you on Monday. Would you pay 100 dollars for a six pack of beer, could you, as climate change disrupts global agriculture? We're approaching a future where everyday items, including beer, will be far more expensive. Of course, beer will be the least of our problems. The economic consequences of climate change will make 2020 look small in comparison. That's why fat tire amber ale is now America's first national carbon neutral certified beer.
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