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In bubble we trust? NBA’s tenuous faith in Orlando restart plan will be tested

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey speaks during a news conference.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey believes the NBA’s season restart strategy is “the best plan in a tough situation.”
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is wearing some of the effects of the NBA’s shutdown all over his face. With the kind of beard you’d expect to see on someone cast away on a remote island and talking to a volleyball, Morey has his anxieties concerning what’s to come for the league.

Teams will make their way to Orlando, Fla., for the NBA restart over a three-day span beginning Tuesday before training camps can begin in preparation for reopening day July 30.

Positive tests for COVID-19 continue to register. Some teams have closed their practice facilities. And for people such as Morey, who doesn’t know for sure whether 69-year-old Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni will be cleared to participate, it’s a critical time.

Still, all things considered, the wild-bearded exec has faith. It’s why he’ll be on one of those planes.

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“I think it would be pretty bad to ask the players to do something that I’m not doing,” he said during a Zoom call Monday. “I do feel comfortable that we have the best plan in a tough situation. Does that make the situation perfect? No. But I do think a lot of work has been put into this.

“It’s about as safe as you can get.”

There are varying levels of trust in the NBA’s bubble, but most everyone agrees this is the best the league can do amid the conditions. NBA sources have insisted the plan, while exhaustive, isn’t cemented and that the league is ready to adjust if necessary.

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Between June 23 and 29, 25 players tested positive for the coronavirus. An additional 10 staff members also tested positive. Seven of the 22 teams heading to Orlando, including the Clippers, have closed their practice facilities after learning of positive tests.

“I think every day there’s new info and you have to make the best decision based on that info. As I talk to you right now, I think we’re on the right path, on the right plan,” Morey said. “But I think every day, there’s new information. We’ll see what comes in the future. If anyone is certain about anything right now, I think they’re making a mistake.”

According to the league’s health and safety guidelines, within the 48 hours leading to a team’s departure to Orlando, it is required to hold a virtual education and training seminar conducted by either a team physician or infectious disease expert.

Teams will travel either by chartered plane or bus. All passengers must have tested negative throughout the league’s testing. If they have returned a positive test, the passengers must have satisfied the league criteria to rejoin their teams. If a passenger is presenting any COVID-19 symptoms or lives with someone who has or recently had the virus or symptoms, they will not be allowed to travel with their teams.

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Passengers will be directed to clean their hands before and after the security screening process and will undergo a temperature and symptoms check before boarding. They also will be asked to wear masks for the trip.

On the plane, passengers will be spread out with as many empty seats and rows between them as possible. Food and drinks will all be pre-packaged, if there is service. Hand sanitizer and wipes will be readily available.

After landing, two buses and a luggage truck will await a team, with the drivers wearing masks. As the team arrives on campus, everyone must either wash or sanitize their hands.

After checking in, everyone must quarantine in their hotel rooms for up to 48 hours (or until each traveler passes two coronavirus tests more than 24 hours apart).

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Lakers center Dwight Howard has decided he will take part in the NBA season restart in Orlando. He says he will donate his salary to charity.

“Just stretch and watch Netflix,” New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball said about the quarantine. “There’s really not much more you can do — try to get my series in.”

Getting healthy players to the bubble — and keeping them that way — is the critical priority for the upcoming weeks. Teams will be moving into the next phase of training, full-team practices, which can begin Thursday.

“I believe in the plan that’s been put together by the NBA. I think everyone — this has affected everyone in the world — has anxiety with the horrible results that have happened in the United States and around the world,” Morey said. “I think everyone is going through it. Everyone must assess the risk they’re deciding to take on versus the upside of what we will have to do to continue to live our lives. it’s a tough balance.”

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That confidence isn’t shared by everyone.

Pelicans All-Star Brandon Ingram hasn’t stressed too much about what’s happening around him. He’s from a town that’s experienced many challenges, and this isn’t too much to handle, he said.

“As far as the players that are testing positive, I tell everybody, I feel like I’m from Kinston [N.C.]. I feel like I’m immune to a lot of stuff, and I’m not really worried about this virus, “ Ingram said.

That doesn’t mean he believes this will be smooth sailing. Asked whether he thinks the league can pull off this season, Ingram said ...

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“I’m not that confident about that,” he said. “It looks like everything is going through Orlando. But like you said, new cases are coming up, different things are happening. I’m not very confident. But they’ve got us going to Orlando [on Wednesday], so we’ll see.”

Here’s a list of some notable athletes who have decided not to take part in the sports’ restart amid the coronavirus crisis.


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