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Newsletter: Our Lakers reporter’s look inside the NBA bubble quarantine

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Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

That’s right, we’re back.

I write to you from the top, right corner of a queen-sized bed inside a dark hotel room of about 300 square feet. This is the precise spot from which I have written three stories, done countless radio interviews and spoken to Anthony Davis, Frank Vogel, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Jared Dudley and Quinn Cook.

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I arrived at the Orlando, Fla., airport just after 1 p.m. Sunday. Two other bubble-bound people and I were whisked away by a black van with an NBA logo that was sent by the league to make sure we didn’t have any more outside contact than necessary.

From then, the goal was to keep us as isolated as possible for seven days.

I entered my room around 3 p.m. and have not left since. I wear a green band around my wrist so that if I’m caught trying to roam the hallways, whoever sees me will know that I’m not supposed to be there. It’s the quarantine wristband. I’ll replace it with a credential once I clear quarantine. I must return seven negative COVID-19 tests, the last of which will be administered Saturday.

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Four times a day there’s a knock on my door. Breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, dinner at 6 p.m. I open the door to find a colorful plastic bag next to a brown or white paper bag, and if I look to my right I see a man pushing a cart down the hall away from me. Totally contactless.

Each meal has about twice as much food as I can reasonably consume, not that I don’t try. My desk is covered in leftover chips and muffins. My fridge is filled with cartons of milk and packaged salads. Dessert for the first two nights was mostly packaged cookies and brownies. But yesterday, we got what appeared to be a dulce de leche cheesecake with lunch and a yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting with dinner. Too delicious to pass up. That’s also why I pushed apart my beds to create a 7-by-5-foot workout space where I do jumping jacks, crunches and such.

The fourth knock? It’s for my COVID-19 test, which happens between 3 and 5 p.m. Three smiling people arrive — one NBA employee and two employees of BioReference, the company that processes our samples. The BioReference employees are dressed in white disposable coats, face shields and masks. One confirms my identify, the other swabs the back of my throat with one long swab and each of my nostrils with another. Results take between 12 and 24 hours to receive. They come in an email. Since I’ve been here, two reporters have received incorrect notifications about positive COVID-19 results. One, Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks, said it took 24 hours for her false positive to be cleared.

Testing is only one part of the medical puzzle. Each morning by 11 a.m., I forfeit my medical privacy to the NBA. That isn’t a complaint. I agreed to this monitoring in order to be able to cover this grand experiment. This is what they’ve determined as necessary to keep the bubble safe in a state that reports more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases every day now.

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I take my temperature on a Bluetooth-enabled thermometer the NBA has provided, and record it in an app. I record my oxygen levels with the help of a provided Bluetooth-enabled oximeter. I am asked if anyone in my household has tested positive for COVID-19, and if I’d like to speak to a mental health professional.

My days are otherwise filled similarly to how they would be back home. The desk is my dining table, which is why I work from the corner of this bed when it’s not mealtime. I join Lakers video conference calls — typically coach Vogel and two players, and sometimes I sit in on calls with other teams.

It’s Thursday and I have binge-watched two Netflix series from start to finish. Two seasons each. I’d, uh, rather not say what they are. On Tuesday night, I ordered a bottle of wine from room service to see how it worked. A woman named Tanya brought it to my door, placed it on a stool and knocked. She waited six feet away while I answered the door and retrieved my items. It came with four stacked wine glasses. Unable to detach them, I just poured a glassful into the top segment and drank from a wine-glass tower.

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On Day 1 I worried that the lack of natural light would be challenging and that I would feel claustrophobic pretty quickly. So far, that hasn’t happened. Once a day, I stick my head out of the door to take a breath of outside air, only to quickly retreat into my air-conditioned room. Florida is not pleasant in July. The days are passing by more quickly than I thought they would, and soon I will be out in the bubble world to see what life is like from the inside.

I’ll be back with more then.

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What’s happened outside the bubble ...

  • The Lakers kissed their families goodbye and headed to the bubble confident they could resume the kind of dominant play they had settled into before the break in March.
  • J.R. Smith is excited to be back with an NBA team. He believes his familiarity with LeBron James will make him be an asset to this team.
  • Dwight Howard decided to join his teammates in the bubble after some consideration of skipping the restart. But he couldn’t join their first practice. He needed one extra day of quarantine because he joined the team from Georgia, rather than flying in with them. Danny Green also missed practice because of a lab error with his test. Both were cleared shortly after.
  • My estimation is that Howard has spent about 20 hours a day on Instagram Live. That’s just a guess. But on the first night he was out of quarantine, Howard was the lone attendee of a poolside party at the team hotel. The NBA has tried to make this a fun environment for players, and they’ve been adjusting in different ways.
  • Bill Plaschke weighs in on James’ mission heading into the NBA’s restart. And also his decision to leave his name on the back of his jersey rather than choose one of the NBA-approved social justice messages.
  • James is not alone in deciding against using a social justice message. Anthony Davis will use his name, so will Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Jimmy Butler of the Heat wants to have nothing on the back off his jersey. Here’s why.
  • Rajon Rondo broke his thumb in the Lakers’ first practice. He’ll have surgery and start his rehab outside the bubble, leaving the Lakers with a hole to fill.
  • Markieff Morris is not with the Lakers right now. He’s the only player with an unexplained absence, but a person familiar with the situation told me that his absence is excused. He’s supposed to join the team soon.

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at tania.ganguli@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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