When an NBA dad’s love for his family comes bubble-wrapped

LeBron James hold his daughter, Zhuri, during a news conference at New York Fashion Week in September 2018.
LeBron James hold his daughter, Zhuri, during a news conference at New York Fashion Week in 2018. “You have that miss factor when you miss your family, you miss your kids,” James says of life in the Florida bubble.
(Steven Vlasic / Getty Images)

The other day, Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope woke up in his hotel room and had a thought he never expected.

He missed the racket his sons make at 7:30 a.m. in their playroom while he and his wife are trying to sleep. He missed the sound of them blasting the television way too early in the morning, playing upstairs, and even the sound of them crying or yelling at each other as brothers of that age — his oldest is 8 — tend to do. He hadn’t heard that sound in five weeks.

“I just miss the noise,” Caldwell-Pope said before a game last week. “It was good just to get away from the noise, but then I’m kind of missing it. I didn’t think I would say I miss my kids making all type of noise.”


Caldwell-Pope has three sons — Kenzo is 8, Kentavious Jr. is 3 and Kendrix is the baby at 1. During the hiatus, he would help Kenzo participate in remote schooling; help complete multiplication homework from the desk in the playroom.

He often calls home in the morning just as the boys are waking up, or in the evening right before bed. He’s one of dozens of dads who have been living on the NBA’s Disney World campus since the second week of July, missing their kids and doing the best they can to stay connected until families are allowed into the bubble.

“You can’t replicate actual presence when you’re waking up and you’re in the living room or you’re in the kitchen or you’re outside playing with your kids or playing with your daughter, playing video games with your boys or working out with your boys,” Lakers star LeBron James said. “You can’t replicate that. I’m not there.

“Savannah [James’ wife] is a beast at what she does. That’s controlling the home and being that rock for our family. So I’m not worried about that. But you definitely, you have that miss factor when you miss your family, you miss your kids.”

This is the longest stretch of time James has been away from his children.

He has two teenage sons and a 5-year-old daughter. Before the hiatus and after his eldest had just finished his freshman year at Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, his son had basketball games all around the country, and it crushed James to miss them. At times, Sierra Canyon’s schedule aligned with the Lakers’ and James would sneak away to attend those games.

But from March 11 through July 9, they grew accustomed to having dad at home consistently. As most of the country grappled with how to control the pandemic and the NBA was still hatching its bubble plan, there was nowhere else to go.


For some, it made leaving easier to know the four-month span was more time than they usually had spent at home. For others, it made the change harder.

“You get into a rhythm of being there,” said Jamal Crawford, who spent a full year at home before the Brooklyn Nets signed him.

He used to sit in his daughter’s room for her video ballet classes. Now, he calls on FaceTime. Seven-year-old London sometimes checks the phone to make sure dad is paying attention.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum has read son Deuce’s favorite books to him over FaceTime.

“It’s tough to be a FaceTime parent,” said Grizzlies veteran Anthony Tolliver. “It’s not nearly as fulfilling. But it is better than nothing.”

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers will face Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Aug. 14, 2020

Tolliver missed the first day of school for his three children recently as their Texas schools began to open. His teammate, Ja Morant, missed his daughter’s first birthday.


“We all came together to make sure we kept our game alive,” Tolliver said.

Older kids are better able to understand. Rockets guard P.J. Tucker’s kids are 12, 8 and 2. They mostly just bug dad to play video games with them from Florida.

The New Orleans Pelicans’ J.J. Redick couldn’t get his youngest son to talk to him for the first few weeks of bubble life. Kai, 3, told his dad before he left that he didn’t want him traveling for basketball anymore and wanted him home all the time. When Redick called from inside the bubble, Kai kicked the phone.

One day, he got over it.

“He got a bee sting and he wanted to tell me about it,” Redick said, smiling.

The Pelicans' J.J. Redick drives against the Spurs' Rudy Gay on Aug. 9, 2020.
The Pelicans’ J.J. Redick, pictured with the ball Aug. 9, couldn’t get his youngest son to talk to him early on in bubble life. But then “he got a bee sting and he wanted to tell me about it,” Redick said, smiling.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The Pelicans were eliminated from the playoffs earlier this week and departed Orlando on Thursday after a five-week stay.

Family members have appeared as virtual fans on the screens surrounding game courts. JaVale McGee turned around once to see his mom, his sister and his daughter’s mother on the screen behind him. He wears a necklace that his daughter Gigi made him. She gave it to him before he left, its chain beaded with a large charm that looks like Disney princess Tiana.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel got his 14-year-old daughter, Ariana, on a video board when the Lakers played the Pacers.


“I tried to wave and she didn’t wave back, so I didn’t know if she could see me or not,” said Vogel, who has family dinners over FaceTime, placing his phone on a small tripod on the table.

There is no plan for coaches and executives to bring their families. But after the first round of the playoffs, at the end of August, players will be allowed four guests, or more, to accommodate children.

Not every family will come. They’ll have to subject young children to quarantines. Once they’re out of quarantine, not many kid-friendly activities will be available.

Montrezl Harrell will be quarantined for seven days but should be cleared for Monday’s playoff opener. Meanwhile, the Clippers end the season with an OT win.

Aug. 14, 2020

“I already know she’s gonna go crazy,” Lakers forward Markieff Morris said of his 3-year-old daughter. “She’ll do anything to see me, so it is what it is.”

His brother, Clippers forward Marcus Morris, has a baby due at the end of September. He planned on leaving for the birth and suggested his wife wait until then to see him.

“I don’t have no say-so in my household, so she told me that she was coming early,” Marcus said. “[She said] she will come on the early side and leave — just come for a couple days, and I’m excited about that. I haven’t seen my son in almost 2½ months because I was in L.A. and they were home. I haven’t seen her in a long time, so I’m excited to just see my family and just be around them for a little bit.”


When his wife gives birth, Marcus will be there too, no matter what is happening with the Clippers. There is a limit to what he’ll sacrifice.