Along with the plan to restart the season, the NBA included a 113-page health and safety manual distributed to teams and players that featured protocols such as maintaining 6 feet of separation in every setting outside of practices and games. That means while players can set screens on each other and wrestle for a loose ball, simple activities like doubles pingpong won’t be allowed.
“The pingpong thing is ridiculous, to be honest,” San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said on Thursday. “Guys can’t do this, but we can do this and battle over each other? That part just don’t make no sense to me. I got through 10 lines of the handbook and just put it down because it became so frustrating and overwhelming at times, because you just never thought you’d be in a situation of something like this. So it’s hard to process at times.”
According to the NBA, the manual was based on guidance from public health authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the quirks — another rule is that each deck of cards has to be thrown away after using — the NBA’s restart protocols and attention to detail have been praised by outside medical professionals.
“I actually have looked at that plan, and it’s really quite creative what they are really trying to do,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I think they might very well be successful with it, to create a situation where it is as safe as it possibly could be for the players by creating this bubble.”
With the isolation and other frustrating elements the players will have to deal with, one area of concern is their mental well-being. DeRozan is a vocal advocate for mental health and noted that’s an area he’s focused on for both himself and other players.
“Definitely been something in play that’s being discussed is mental well-being for everybody,” he said. “That will definitely be an option for guys, to be able to have resources there to stay on top of that. Because that’s definitely going to be a new challenge for us all.
“It’s tough. You’re taking guys that have been with their families every single day for the last few months and all of sudden, separating everybody into this one confined space and taking away a lot of joyful things we do outside of basketball. … It’ll be something for every single player when it comes to mental health.”
On Wednesday, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard expressed doubt about players sticking to the protocols in the bubble. There will be recreational activities and other things to occupy players and staff during free time, but the isolation and confinement will be a hurdle, DeRozan said. As for him, he doesn’t plan to pass the time playing video games and watching movies.
“I haven’t played video games since I was 16,” he said. “You definitely have the opportunity to educate yourself on whatever new topic that you want to learn, so for me it’s always about finding some way to self-educate myself with something, whether that’s picking five new books, finding something new to study. Kind of put yourself through a side hustle of school, of self-education to keep yourself busy.”
Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen was asked Thursday whether he is worried about the NBA’s ability to keep players safe in the bubble.
“I think for everybody, including myself, there’s a little bit of worry,” he said. “We’re all going into an unknown. But at the end of the day I have no doubt that the two powerhouses, Disney and the NBA, are coming up with the best solution for us. Obviously, there’s a little doubt in my mind. We’re all human. But I’m confident in them.”
Indiana Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis, who was a member of the Lithuanian Olympic national team during the 2016 Summer Olympics, compared the NBA’s bubble in Orlando to that of an Olympic village.
“In the Olympic location, it’s the same thing. They just call it the Olympic village,” Sabonis said. “Basically with every athlete, in that village, it kind of sucks. If you want, you can go out, but really it’s not recommended. Everybody’s going to eat in the same place, everybody’s going to live in the same place and it definitely has that kind of feel.
“I’m used to it. I’ve been in that many times growing up, although [with] European and world championships it’s the same thing. You’re all in one area and you’re on lockdown.”
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is from Greece, shared a similar perspective on the bubble on Wednesday.
“I have done that in Europe. Obviously, it’s kind of European style, like a FIBA tournament, going to a hotel, staying there for, not two weeks, three weeks, staying there for a little bit longer, that’s the goal,” Antetokounmpo said. “But at the end of the day, I think the most important thing that I asked — is it gonna be safe?
“And I know the NBA and the NBPA worked together to make this place as safe as possible. And I trust them. At the end of the day, we’ve gotta do our job; and I know the NBA’s gonna do their job, and the NBPA are gonna do their job too — keep us as safe as possible to make this transition as easy as possible for us.”
ESPN’s Nick Friedell and Eric Woodyard contributed to this report.