Cut off from the world but at the heart of all attention. For several weeks, basketball fans will have their eyes riveted on the health bubble set up by the NBA in the Disney World sports complex in Orlando. It is in this kingdom of sport and entertainment that the North American basketball championship, stopped since March 11, will reopen its doors on the night of this Thursday to Friday. It’s gone for 88 regular season games, to be played until August 14, before attacking the playoffs.
Among the 350 players present in Florida, eight Frenchies are part of this unique adventure: Rudy Gobert, Joakim Noah, Evan Fournier, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Ian Mahinmi, Vincent Poirier, Elie Okobo and Jaylen Hoard. Three of them allowed us to enter their bubble and make us discover their daily life under a bell.
FACILITIES, SPORTS EQUIPMENT. “It’s as big as Paris”
To start the owner’s tour, you have to turn to Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic player and stage local. Accustomed to the place, he lays the foundations for entry: “I don’t know if we realize it, but the park is the size of a city, it’s as big as Paris! They have their own highways, their own hotels, it’s a world apart. “
The Disney estate covers 11 ha, an area sufficient to allow the NBA to invest $ 170 million to bring the 22 teams (out of 30) there to compete at this unique end of the season. Three hotels, eight training grounds, accessible in 10-15 minutes by bus, and three rooms dedicated to matches are available. “Each team has a three-hour training window during the day,” said Ian Mahinmi, inside Washington Wizards. And you can go shoot every night in the room where a basket is reserved for you for 30 minutes. “
But the major question came from the standing of the rooms where the NBA meetings will be played behind closed doors. While fans might be worried about the possibility of watching games in front of an empty hall and a gloomy atmosphere, the League found the parade.
“They cut the rooms in half with a large canvas and installed several screens to incorporate graphics and virtual viewers. We do not have the impression of playing in a completely empty room at least, confides Evan Fournier. The first game, without noise, was really weird and they ended up adding sound effects at important moments to make it stick to the physiognomy. “
“Even if we play in front of a practically empty room, the NBA still managed to make a final rendering quite warm, complete Mahinmi. The lighting is good, the sound is good, frankly the experience is pleasant. “
A TYPICAL DAY. “We share friendly moments”
The arrival in the bubble has undeniably changed the customs of basketball players, who are used to traveling across the country throughout the season. They are forbidden to go out, to rub shoulders with their relatives before the end of the first round of the playoffs, and each of their movements is the subject of special attention. Obviously, the time may seem long for some.
“During classic days, we fall into a certain routine, remarks Fournier, bronze medalist with the Blues at the 2019 World Cup. Tuesday, the Magic was off and honestly, we pissed ourselves off a bit, even if we are not in bad conditions. The hardest part is being in a hotel room, you don’t eat what you want, you don’t sleep in your bed… Your daily comfort is totally disrupted and that’s what impacts me on more. But with the arrival of the matches, our days have more meaning, there is something that excites us. When you come back to your room, you feel a little better because you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. “
Vincent Poirier is just as homey as his France team partner, but he manages to fill this confinement in a… virtual way. “When we arrived, we had a portable phone charger, a portable speaker, an Amazon Fire TV,” lists the Boston Celtics player. I came with my gamer suitcase and I play online every night with friends including Rudy (Editor’s note: Gobert). »
For others, like Ian Mahinmi, this health bubble sounds like real breathing and an opportunity to focus on yourself. “I am used to waking up early and here I have time for myself, to educate myself and to think. It’s a little selfish, but it never happens in normal times! I realize how well I live it. For 3 to 4 hours, I’m in my bubble in the bubble, laughs the 2011 NBA champion with Dallas. At the moment, I really enjoy reading and writing, my new passion. We have a lot of meetings between players on Zoom, and we had the chance to have a meeting with Michelle Obama last week, it was super interesting! “
The mixing of teams on the site also gives the opportunity to meet between French players or to get to know members of their team better. “The atmosphere looks like preparing for an international competition because you feel a family atmosphere,” continues Mahinmi. We can manage to create strong bonds! It all depends on everyone’s wishes: either you want to get to know your teammate, or you stay in your room! With Washington, we spend a lot of time together, laughing, we share friendly moments. From a human point of view, it is also a great adventure. “
The opportunities to kill time (and boredom, especially) are obviously multiple since the NBA has done what is necessary to satisfy the desires of players who have access to bowling alleys, swimming pools, bicycles, ping-pong tables , arcades, boats to improvise fishing parties or… a barbershop. “They built one outside when we already had one in a room in our hotel. The guys were on it day and night for a week under 35 degrees for something we don’t even need, says Fournier. Afterwards, he happens to be my barber, so it’s great. “
MEDICAL MONITORING. “Not the impression of being a laboratory rat”
Not to pierce the bubble: that was the objective announced by the NBA at the time of the recovery announcement and it is clear that it is doing what is necessary to stay the course. If two players tested positive on their arrival, no case was to be deplored on Wednesday before the restart, proof that the health measures taken from the start of this life in isolation are effective. “When we arrived, we had to stay in our rooms for 48 hours,” says Vincent Poirier. We had done two tests before leaving for Orlando and we had to wait for the results to see if we could get out. “Since then, the ritual has not changed: wearing a compulsory mask, daily test, taking temperature, and above all, wearing the Disney bracelet, with the silhouette of Mickey, which gives access to the rooms and to the medical areas.
“We are at the top, recognizes Ian Mahinmi. That’s great safe, some Disney employees who are in contact with us are also tested. We have a ring that calculates sleep time, the ability to be ready to play… A little gadget takes into account our heart rate and the level of oxygen in the blood. Once everything is done, a signal is sent to the application in connection with our Disney bracelet. If the circle is green, it means that you are in good health, when the circle is blue, then your test is not good. “
“If the bracelet is red, you have the Samu coming (laughs), bids Fournier. I was in the blue, for two or three days, I had a headache and temperature rises, but nothing to do with the Covid. The NBA is listening, you don’t feel like a lab rat. “
FOOD. “The NBA tries to satisfy us in the minute”
This is undoubtedly the black spot of this bubble: the meals distributed by the League served as the first “scandal” within the organization. The clichés posted caused a reaction and if the actors recognize an improvement at this level over the days, Evan Fournier, who usually benefits from a home chef, regrets that the quality of the products is not at the level of the requirements of a NBA basketball player.
“I communicate a lot with my boss, because I am quite demanding and we try to improve things. But that’s still the hotel’s food… I’m not complicated, it’s just that we would like more quality products and more choice. To eat very well here, you have to pay and a hotel that houses 6 teams cannot afford it. I eat in my room all the time, but I plan to make Ian Mahinmi a quick bite to eat soon. “
The pivot of the Wizards also recognizes the shortcomings in this area, but is understanding and remains convinced that the situation will change over time. “It was complicated to know what the 500 or 600 people there wanted to eat. We all have our eating habits. At the moment I am on an alkaline diet with lots of specific fruits and vegetables, I am very careful in the preparation of my wild rice and quinoa. I had a meeting with the chef, he understood what I wanted and now I have a special dish every day. I still have a little trouble with the provenance of the fruits and vegetables, I like things to be organic. But whenever you need something, the NBA tries to satisfy you within the minute. The responsiveness of the staff is quite impressive. “
ABSENCE OF RELATIVES. “It’s the hardest to manage”
After spending more than three months confined with family, NBA players are in a totally antinomic situation by being away from them in this bubble. If they will be able to bring relatives to Orlando after the end of the first round of the playoffs, the lack of contact with the outside life is hard to live with.
“I am the father of three daughters, they are very attached to me, so the separation is really not easy,” says Ian Mahinmi. FaceTime is good, but it does not replace human presence. This is the hardest part to deal with. The first six weeks are the most difficult, but after you get used to it and if the family arrives, it can go bad. “
With Boston, Poirier can claim to live the Indian summer in Florida and extend his season until October if he participates in the NBA Finals. An eventuality that he would appreciate if not that his partner, pregnant, must give birth in September. “I have already warned my managers and they agree that I attend the birth of my daughter,” says the former player of Paris-Levallois. There are priorities. With the confinement it’s been a long time since I saw my mother or my brother, I can’t wait to see them again. I also want to return to France. But we’re not going to complain. “