The Dallas Mavericks arrive in Orlando, Florida today to prepare for the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season, decamping from one COVID-19 hotbed and swapping it for another. In recent weeks, both Texas and Florida have been two of the poster children for the dizzying rise of coronavirus cases in the United States.
Florida has been particularly hard hit since Governor Ron DeSantis began a phased reopening in early May, which included an invitation to professional sports leagues to relocate there. The Sunshine State saw 7,347 total new cases on Tuesday. Days earlier, on July 4, the state set its single day record for new coronavirus cases with 11,459.
Now, three professional sports leagues are taking up residence in the state. The WNBA and MLS are joining the NBA. As the Mavericks disembark from the team’s private charter—WNBA players flew commercial to their “bubble” in Bradenton—and retreat to their lodgings at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa at the Walt Disney World Resort—masks on, of course—there’s no escaping the specter of COVID-19.
“It’s important that we get to the bubble safe and healthy,” Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis said. “Once we’re in there, we’ll see what the circumstances are and we’ll go from there. But we can’t be scared and worry about all those things. We just have to do our job and make sure we do the right thing.”
Not every team will arrive unscathed. Seven of the 22 Disney-bound teams—Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns—shut down their facilities within the past two weeks due to positive coronavirus tests. The Mavericks were tested three days in a row prior to departing. They haven’t reported any positive cases.
“The virus is unpredictable on many levels, but the one thing that’s very predictable is the level of contagiousness that is involved with it,” Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle said. “The NBA has done a really, really great job of communicating the safety protocols.”
In Orlando, the NBA established numerous precautions in the hopes of ensuring the health and safety of players and personnel sequestered on the Disney campus. When the Mavericks arrive at their hotel, they must isolate in their rooms until they return two negative COVID-19 tests at least 24 hours apart. Only then can the leave. Testing will be a regular part of players’ lives in Orlando.
They must also follow social distancing guidelines, based on those established by the Centers for Disease Control. These go so far as to restrict the number of people allowed to play table tennis at one time. They can also opt to wear an Oura smart ring that may aid in early detection of coronavirus symptoms. The virus’ threat remains real, though.
“I’m still up in the air right now,” Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said about his mindset. “I love the game of basketball. So, I don’t care where it’s getting played or what the circumstances are. … I think the NBA and NBPA and everybody that’s involved with the season restarting in Orlando, I think they’ve done an amazing job of making sure that our lives are safe and that everybody is safe when they all get into the bubble.”
Orange County, where Disney World is situated, isn’t the worst hit county in the state. It is, however, in the top-five. As of Tuesday, the county had 11,458 confirmed cases. Statewide, there have been 213,794 positive results. That accounts for the virus infecting nearly one out of every 100 people in Florida. Governor DeSantis has so far rejected calls to issue a mandatory mask requirement.
“Even though the cases are high in Florida, our protected area should be one of the safest places to be if you factor in the amount of testing and the amount of care that has gone into the planning,” Carlisle said. “We have a lot of faith in that.”
Still, there’s no guarantee that they won’t contract the virus. Even though teams are quarantining, Disney employees—those cleaning the players’ rooms, preparing meals and providing other services—won’t be. They’ll come and go as they’re schedule allows, with many living in COVID-19 hotspots. Disney employees will be subject to health screenings and will mostly be prohibited from coming into contact with NBA personnel.
Finishing the NBA season in a single location under quarantine is unprecedented. Yet, that’s what the Mavericks and 21 other teams came to Orlando to do. There’s still a lot of basketball to play and a champion to crown, virus or not. However, everything done from here on out will be inextricably linked to the bizarre season finale and the league navigates the havoc wrought by COVID-19.
“We move into this with a high degree of respect for the virus,” Carlisle said, “a high degree of humility that every day we’ve got to really pay attention to detail, to as much as possible keep ourselves and our teams out of harm’s way.”