The NBA Playoffs will continue for up to another six weeks from the league’s bubble at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. But longtime NBA reporter Marc Stein is leaving the bubble as of Thursday.
The timing may seem curious as the playoffs progress toward the conference finals and NBA Finals. But this isn’t due to any COVID-19 concerns or breach of protocols in the bubble.
As Stein explained in the latest edition of his NBA newsletter for the New York Times, he was originally scheduled to be in Orlando for eight weeks before colleague Scott Cacciola took over. Cacciola is finishing up his seven-day quarantine and will presumably begin reporting for the NYT by the end of the week.
Though players considered leaving the Orlando bubble and ending the NBA Playoffs to protest the Jacob Blake shooting Kenosha, Wisconsin, the thought of going home also indicated the mental and emotional toll of being sequestered for months away from family and friends. LeBron James was among those who publicly expressed their thoughts about leaving.
Lakers’ LeBron James on whether he was ready to leave bubble after Bucks refused to play: “I’ve had numerous nights & days thinking about leaving. I think everyone has, including you (media) guys. There’s not 1 person who hasn’t (thought), “I’ve got to get the hell out of here.’” pic.twitter.com/qKIZzlzRp1
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) August 30, 2020
“I’ve had numerous nights and days of thinking about leaving the bubble,” said James. “I think everyone has, including you guys,” alluding to the reporters also staying in Orlando.
But Stein now gets to leave, unlike some of his colleagues who committed to the full run of the NBA’s restart and finish of the 2019-20 season. The Washington Post‘s Ben Golliver, for one, is writing a book about the entire experience.
Related: Reporters in NBA bubble share their experiences on food, hotels, and COVID-19 testing
Going home while others stay is causing some guilt for Stein. As you can imagine, he’s eager to return to his regular life — as regular as it can be amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet he doesn’t regret taking what will surely be viewed as a historic assignment.
“The word I have used to describe this assignment, over and over, is ‘unmissable.’ That sentiment remains true, because I’m not sure I’ll ever have the chance again to cover N.B.A. playoff games in August and September in arenas without fans. But ‘interminable’ also applies. I can’t deny that there have been times during my 52 days here that I tried to picture the finish line and couldn’t.”
There are aspects of NBA bubble life that Stein will miss, which he lists in his newsletter. Among them are randomly encountering a player or coach simply because they’re sharing the same limited space. And, of course, getting a first-hand view of the amazing performances from stars such as Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, and Luka Doncic.
50-PIECE FOR JAMAL MURRAY ? pic.twitter.com/2FoR5MLeBZ
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 31, 2020
Stein acknowledges that his time in the NBA bubble — with its routine tests, limited food choices, and hotel housekeeping — might make rejoining the outside world a difficult adjustment. Thanks to daily testing, mask mandates, and other restrictions, COVID-19 isn’t as much of a concern on the Wide World of Sports campus.
Unfortunately, that likely won’t be the case when he rejoins the rest of us in the outside world.
Click here to subscribe to Stein’s NYT newsletter, if you’re interested.