Dwight Howard roamed around the Mayan-themed pool of a resort at Walt Disney World, while the sound system thumped around him in the dark. It was Saturday night in the NBA bubble and the league had arranged a bit of a party for its players on their first weekend there.
“Welcome back to Orlando,” said one woman, a hotel employee. Howard, who started his career as a top draft pick by the Orlando Magic, thanked her, broadcasting the interaction on Instagram.
He walked over to the bar, where bartenders clad with face masks waited to serve. After some thought, Howard ordered a drink called a Cancun Colada then said he’d return once it was ready. No need. The drink was ready immediately.
“Dwight told me he was the only one there,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said, chuckling when asked about the event’s low turnout. “I think, quite frankly, a lot of guys just didn’t know about it. I know the NBA’s trying to make this as comfortable as possible and as relaxing as possible for us so they’re going to always try to do different things to try to make everyone feel as [at] home as possible.”
Life inside the NBA bubble has been unusual for players and they’re all finding different ways to enjoy themselves as the league restarts. It’s not an altogether unfamiliar feeling — like a grown-up summer camp almost. The Lakers were among the last of the 22 teams to arrive in Orlando and are just beginning to explore what bubble life will mean.
“Today was actually our first day that we stepped foot out of the hotel and we all realized how hot Orlando is,” Davis said.
When the Lakers left Los Angeles on Thursday, they did so after a stretch of time that was unlike what any of them had seen in their careers — four months off before the playoffs, mostly confined to their homes with their families.
“It gave me an opportunity to be home and make up a lot of time that I’ve lost over the years,” LeBron James said. “… So, leaving Thursday, leaving my family, leaving my kids, leaving my wife was very challenging. Kind of emotional, at the same time. But they truly understood it.”
This wasn’t a normal trip, and packing for it wasn’t normal either.
“I packed like I’m moving into a new apartment or something,” Lakers center JaVale McGee said. “I brought my bike, I brought my gaming setup. What else did I bring? I mean, I brought a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t bring if it was just a regular road trip, obviously. I had like 10 bags.”
Kyle Kuzma showed himself pressing a sandwich in a panini press on Thursday night — not standard hotel equipment.
In some ways this setting is familiar, akin to the AAU tournaments of their youth where elite basketball players convene en masse with their teams and share the same arenas and spaces for downtime.
It’s led to fishing trips and beer-chugging contests. They’ll have golf courses on which to pass their time and lounges to enjoy each other’s company. It’s led to reunions among friends who don’t see much of each other during the season — like former Clippers teammates Boban Marjanovic and Tobias Harris, who have taken to hazing each other on social media.
Davis hasn’t caught up with old friends quite yet, or partaken in many of the amenities.
“I’ve been in the room playing video games with guys on the team,” Davis said. “Everybody has brought their gaming system so we’re kind of online just playing against each other or being teammates, so there’s not much that we’ve done.”
Only three days into what could be a three-month stay in Orlando, Fla., he knew he had plenty of time to try all the rest.