Lakers get to know new teammates in the bubble and hope to not clash with future foes

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 27: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the first half of a game against the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center on October 27, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic took away so many opportunities people have for real face-to-face connection. Weddings were canceled, restaurants were closed, bars were unable to serve. Gathering places were made off limits.

In the NBA it meant keeping players away from teammates and friends, with team facilities shuttered temporarily because of mandates from the league not to congregate.

There is irony, then, in the fact that the campus the NBA created actually is giving some of that back. Despite its social distancing rules and health protocols, the NBA bubble on the Disney World campus is giving players a chance to see their old friends and reconnect in ways they rarely have been able to do since the pandemic started.

“It’s dope because literally it’s hoop and your boys, so it’s actually refreshing,” Lakers guard JR Smith said. “Get to see people, get to actually see how people are doing, see how their families are doing. You hear so much stuff and social media stuff is just so vast. So many things you see and things go by, flying by that you don’t get a chance to have the opportunity to value those relationships that you grew up with.”

For Smith that’s meant spending time with Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, with whom he played AAU basketball. He follows Lowry on Instagram and comments on his posts, but hearing directly from him about family is different.

Even when he used to see Lowry while on road trips, it wasn’t always possible to catch up. Trips often include only one night in a city.

“There’s so much stuff you finally get a chance to catch up on,” Smith said.

The bubble environment also has given the rest of the Lakers a chance to get to know Smith and Dion Waiters — their newest additions.

“We haven’t been around them guys,” Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “It gives us a chance to be around them and [see] how they interact and how their personality is. Just being teammates really, at the end of the day. Just actually cracking jokes, still being our normal self, and letting them know they can be their normal selves as well.”

The Lakers are staying at the Gran Destino Tower of the Coronado Springs Resort at Disney World, as are the Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Miami Heat and Raptors.

As much fun as they’re having now, there’s the potential for things to get awkward.

“It’s going to be a little bit different when games start playing and it should be when that starts happening,” Lakers forward Jared Dudley said. “One team is down in the series and you might see them in the elevator and seeing that, so they might need to add a little more security coming here shortly.”

For now, though, they’re appreciating the novelty of the situation.

“You see guys you went to college with, guys you grew up idolizing, guys you grew up playing against and with,” Lakers guard Quinn Cook said. “So it’s a pretty cool experience.”