Swabs and Sensors: Memos Offer Details of Life in N.B.A. ‘Bubble’

When N.B.A. teams arrive at the Walt Disney World Resort next month for the resumption of the 2019-20 season, every player and team staff member will be expected to stay on the campus at nearly all times.

Confirmation of that rule was among the standout disclosures that teams and players received on Tuesday in the most detailed look yet at what life will look like at the complex in Florida. Two memorandums — one from the league office to teams, and the other from the players’ union to agents — highlighted many of the key guidelines and restrictions that the league will enforce.

A complete, 113-page guidebook of health and safety protocols that the league and the players’ union are expected to formally sign off on this week was also sent to teams Tuesday night.

To try to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus from the surrounding community, any player or staff member who leaves the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando, Fla., without approval and wishes to return will face a quarantine period of “up to 10 or more days,” according a league memo viewed by The New York Times.

Delegations capped at 35 people per team for the 22 clubs that have been invited to the N.B.A.’s planned restart will thus be largely limited to shuttling back and forth among their assigned team hotels, seven practice facilities and the three arenas used for games at the complex. A 33-page player handbook sent to teams Tuesday also included many details about an array of entertainment options, recreational activities and personal services that will be provided to try ease the rigors of a grind that is scheduled to last three months for the two teams that reach the N.B.A. finals.

The union memo, also viewed by The Times, referenced the imminent completion of the 113-page document as a “robust health and safety manual” that has been the subject of negotiations involving officials from the N.B.A., Disney and the players’ union, with input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various health officials and medical experts.

Players and team staffers will be required to register two negative coronavirus tests when they arrive with their teams July 7 to 9 and will quarantine in their hotel rooms for 36 to 48 hours. With no family members or friends allowed into bubble until the second round of the playoffs, players on teams that advance that far will have to brace for more than 50 days in the tightly controlled environment before having any in-person contact with individuals from the outside world.

The distribution of both memos was first reported by The Athletic. Among the most notable disclosures:

  • Players who elect not to play in the restart — either because of safety concerns, reservations about N.B.A. bubble life or a reluctance to return to work in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement that has attracted passionate participation from many key figures around the league — have until June 24 to notify their teams. Players would not be sanctioned in such cases but would have to surrender up to 14 games’ worth of salary.

  • The Toronto Raptors, the N.B.A.’s defending champions, are scheduled to begin using Florida Gulf Coast University in Naples, Fla., as their practice facility later this month because of government travel restrictions that mandate a 14-day quarantine for people entering Canada. (Some Raptors players are currently in the United States, making it easier for the team to congregate in Florida than in Toronto.)

  • Players will be asked to wear an optional “proximity alarm” that would notify the player if he spends more than five seconds within six feet of another person wearing an alarm. The device will only be mandatory for team and league staff members, according to the union memo, which also states that players will be given the option of wearing “an Oura smart ring” that tracks temperature, respiratory and heart rate and other health measures, and may help with coronavirus protection.

  • Six feet of social distancing is encouraged at all times, entering another guest’s hotel room is forbidden and face coverings will be mandatory for everyone on campus, according to the union memo, except when eating, in individual rooms or while engaged in a physical activity outdoors.

  • Random anti-drug testing will resume July 7, but only for performance-enhancing drugs and diuretics. Although no testing would be done for recreational substances, the union memo noted that players remain subject to discipline for possession or use of prohibited recreational substances including marijuana, which is not legal in Florida for recreational use.

  • Both the league and the union said frequent coronavirus testing would be done with a shallow nasal swab and a mouth swab (known as a Covid-19 PCR test) and a blood draw (serology/antibody test). The union said that the more-invasive full nasal swab (nasopharyngeal) widely known to cause discomfort will not be used — except as a re-entry measure for those who leave the campus without prior approval.

  • Hotel assignments will be based on the standings when the season was paused, with the top four seeds in each conference (Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Miami, Denver, Utah and both Los Angeles teams — the Lakers and the Clippers) bound for the Gran Destino luxury tower, which opened in 2019.

The bubble experience “may not be for everyone,” N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday night on ESPN. “It will entail enormous sacrifice on behalf of those players and for everyone involved.”

“My confidence, it didn’t exist at the beginning of this virus because I was so frightened by it,” Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, told The Associated Press. “Now, having lived and breathed and suffered through the hours and hours of understanding the virus, and listening to our experts, and comparing different alternative protocols, I can’t even think of anything else we could do short of hermetically seal the players that would keep them safe.”

The N.B.A. was the first major North American sports league to suspend play in response to the coronavirus outbreak, stopping the season on March 11. Each of the 22 teams chosen for the restart — 13 from the Western Conference and nine from the East — is scheduled to play at least eight games starting July 30.

That will be followed by a brief play-in round if the No. 9 seed finishes four games or fewer behind the No. 8 seed, and then a typical postseason tournament featuring four best-of-seven playoff rounds will be played.

  • Updated June 16, 2020

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      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

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A growing contingent of players, led by the Nets’ Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers, has been outspoken in recent days regarding their concern that playing basketball at a time of such widespread protests against racial inequality could divert crucial attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement.

The N.B.A., in its memo to teams from the league’s operations president, Byron Spruell, said “a central goal of our season restart will be to utilize the N.B.A.’s platform to bring attention and sustained action to issues of social injustice, including combating systemic racism, expanding educational and economic opportunities across the black community, enacting meaningful police and criminal justice reform and promoting greater civic engagement.”

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