Beard: Will the bubble burst? NBA faces delicate dance at Disney

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Players from the 22 NBA teams that will continue the season are arriving at the Walt Disney World Resort and settling into their new temporary homes.

It’s anything but a vacation, though.

Even before the scheduled restart on July 30, the NBA’s last grasp at salvaging the season sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic since mid-March still has lingering questions, both inside the “Disney bubble” and outside.

Can they maintain the integrity of the bubble for the planned three-month stint? What happens if a player tests positive during the restart? Does the same thing happen if a superstar player such as LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo tests positive? Is all of this even worth the potential negative outcomes?

Sacramento's Richaun Holmes is back in quarantine after violating the NBA bubble rules.

As the state of Florida is reporting more than 15,000 new cases daily, the questions still linger. Despite more than 135,000 deaths due to the virus, the sports world is trying to establish a new normal that includes basketball.

It’s a tricky precipice.

The NBA announced Monday that there were two positive cases of COVID-19 among the 322 players tested since arriving on the Disney campus since July 7. Those two players were still in the quarantine phase and were not exposed to the rest of those who had cleared quarantine.

“Those players never cleared quarantine and have since left the campus to isolate at home or in isolation house,” the NBA said in a joint statement with the players association.

The release also noted that 19 players have tested positive since July 1. That includes former MVP Russell Westbrook, who revealed Monday that he also had tested positive before leaving the Houston area. 

In the weeks before the bubble was solidified, the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie and the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic also tested positive and other players, including the Nets’ DeAndre Jordan and the Lakers’ Avery Bradley, opted out of playing in the restart.

For better or for worse, there likely will be other positive tests and others who opt out. 

The bubble idea is an ambitious endeavor for the NBA, which already has had some turbulence, with players revealing some of the food options in the initial stages of the quarantine phase.

There has been skepticism about maintaining the bubble, with each team maintaining a travel party of about 36 people and other variables, including the Disney Resort staff and others who might have accidental contact with the players.

By the time it’s all done — projected to be in October — the two teams in the Finals will have been in the bubble for more than three months. The plan is to allow family members to come into the bubble, under the same stipulations with daily testing and quarantine, when teams reach the conference finals.

Until then, how they socialize and pass time is anyone’s guess. Players have posted photos of fishing competitions and the league has promoted other activities, including outdoor parties, but that can only last for so long before the malaise sets in.

What happens when a player breaks the bubble? It’s not just about the safety of that player, but the integrity of the bubble.

“Honestly, I’m not really thinking about what other guys are doing,” Nets guard Caris LeVert said Monday via teleconference. “I’m trying to focus on the Nets and myself and making sure I’m taking the right safety precautions.”

There already have been a couple of blips, where players have mistakenly crossed the line — and will pay the price because of it. Sacramento Kings big man Richaun Holmes said that he crossed into a restricted area to pick up a food delivery.

The punishment: back to quarantine for 10 days.

It’s the same fate for the Rockets’ Bruno Caboclo.

The NBA isn’t playing around with precautions — and it shouldn’t. There’s too much at risk, and the games haven’t even begun yet.

It’s safe to say that the sports world is watching with eager eyes to see what becomes of the NBA’s bubble and which parts they can emulate from the template to restart their leagues. If they can get through the remaining eight games of the rescheduled regular season and complete the playoffs, it’ll be a minor miracle.

It’s a delicate situation, kind of like a kid playing outside with a bubble.

Just hope this one doesn’t burst.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard