Entering the NBA bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando has led to some intriguing and entertaining social media posts from players complaining about the food being served in quarantine and hotel accommodations less luxurious than those which highly-paid professional athletes typically enjoy.
Though fans might care less about the media’s experience in the NBA bubble, several of the reporters assigned to cover the league’s restart have also given followers and readers a glimpse into a very unusual setting.
ESPN’s Malika Andrews, by virtue of working for the network and its many programs — including ABC’s Good Morning America — has been one of the most public in reporting the media point of view and the shared experience with players in the bubble. She, along with Yahoo Sports’ Chris B. Haynes, were the first reporters allowed to arrive early, according to the New York Times‘ Marc Stein.
“Once you get out of quarantine, for both players and reporters, there isn’t a ton of separation because our lobbies are conjoined,” Andrews told Mina Kimes on the ESPN Daily podcast.
ESPN’s Malika Andrews describes her arrival to the NBA bubble in Orlando ? pic.twitter.com/xaeen5dkoI
— The Podcass (@thepodcass) July 15, 2020
“So when I go to get coffee in the morning, I oftentimes see players grabbing some coffee or muffins and we’ll chat about the food that morning or how their workout was the day before,” she continued. “You run into players all the time. I’ve never just turned a corner down the hallway before and said ‘Oh, there’s LeBron’ or ‘Oh, there’s Giannis.’ That happens all the time here.”
Andrews admitted to Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy that being in such a setting with COVID-19 concerns has caused some anxiety. But she also realizes the unique opportunity this presents.
“This is an incredible journalistic opportunity,” said Andrews. “There are only 10 reporters and a handful of other folks who are going to be able to experience this and document it first-hand. It’s documenting history.”
What's it like being a media member in the NBA Bubble? @JoeVardon reports from inside the bubble.
— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) July 14, 2020
The Athletic’s Joe Vardon echoed those sentiments, saying this “could be the last, great American sportswriting assignment.” In his first report from Orlando, he described the visits to his hotel room from technicians administering nasal COVID-19 tests.
“Just before 10 o’clock Sunday night, two gentlemen knocked on my door from BioReference Labs. They are the only people besides me who are allowed in my room. And so long as the cotton swab they gently shove into my nose and the one they brush along the inner walls of my throat do not return any COVID-19 all week, I’ll be allowed out of the room with limited access to ‘the bubble.'”
Day ✌️ of The Bubble Diaries … and @joevardon has already forgotten what day it is. ?
☑️ Temperature checks
☑️ Sprints from the hotel door to the bathroom
— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) July 14, 2020
Some health and safety gear the NBA just dropped off for me pic.twitter.com/rNijTQP174
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) July 13, 2020
Vardon’s experience in talking with players in hotel lobbies has apparently been different from what Andrews described. But maybe that’s in regards to having basketball conversations as opposed to casual chats about life in the bubble.
“The best among us are ‘sidlers,’ who have honed the skill of scooting up to the great player or famous coach or powerful GM for a private conversation that leads to the big scoop. Not only are those conversations outlawed in the bubble — by banishment! — but any conversation we do have with a player or coach will be part of a formal interview that will be broadcast via Zoom to the dozens of reporters who aren’t here.”
But the food situation in Orlando, especially now that everyone is out of quarantine, was overblown by players, according to Vardon. Though it’s certainly possible that his standards are different from what professional athletes are accustomed to for their meals.
— Joe Vardon (@joevardon) July 15, 2020
I ordered wine from room service. A nice lady named Tanya placed it on a portable stool in front of my door, knocked and backed away so she wouldn’t be near me when I retrieved it. It came with stackable glasses I couldn’t figure out how to detach, so I am drinking it like this. pic.twitter.com/uk1W1PQfp6
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) July 15, 2020
Stein lamented his coffee situation, but that may have been self-inflicted. No word on what coffee is available in the lobby or from room service.
“So I purchased some space-efficient Keurig pods that looked interesting online, packed them to use with the machine in my room and hoped for the best. After it was too late, I shared this plan with Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles. ‘Keurig ain’t it,’ Ingles said with a laugh. Utah’s coffee connoisseur was right.”
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) July 13, 2020
What might be most reassuring is that in a dorm or field trip-like situation, even professional reporters can revert to the pranks and amusements that entertained so many of us when we were younger. Such as a “Ding-Dong Ditch” prank which Haynes played on Stein.
— NBA Bubble Life (@NBABubbleLife) July 12, 2020
There’s probably some thrill in knowing that you can run away and hide behind a corner just as fast, or nearly as quickly, as you did when you were an adolescent. That’s probably not the case for many, however…
It’s too bad Stein isn’t filing on-air reports for ESPN anymore. Watching him describe a prank played by a fellow reporter while talking to, say, Scott Van Pelt or Rachel Nichols would’ve made for good television.