The National Basketball Association (NBA) relaunches its 2019-2020 season on Thursday (July 30) with 22 teams based inside a secure “bubble” at Disney World in Florida due to complete the remainder of the campaign.
Here AFP looks at some of the key questions and issues surrounding the unprecedented restart:
WHAT IS THE BUBBLE?
From the moment the NBA season was halted in March after the pandemic brought the United States to a standstill, the NBA began looking at the question of how or if the season could be restarted safely.
The logistical challenges of restarting the season in its existing format, with large travelling groups of players and support staff jetting in and out of multiple cities at a time was deemed a non-starter in the era of Covid-19.
Instead, the NBA began exploring the feasibility of basing all teams at a single location, creating a giant quarantined safe zone or “bubble” and completing the season there.
Las Vegas and Orlando quickly emerged as the front-runners, with the NBA eventually opting for the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida as the best venue.
Twenty-two teams are now based in the campus, with players requiring to test negative for Covid-19 twice after arrival before being allowed to enter.
WHO IS ALLOWED IN?
Team and NBA personnel are staying in three hotels dotted throughout the complex, with a small number of media, sponsors and inactive players. Games will take place without fans at three different venues on the complex.
In the early weeks of the restart, no guests will be allowed although those rules will be relaxed once the play-offs start.
After the first round of the play-offs, players will be allowed to reserve one hotel room each for guests, who will be required to self-quarantine for seven days. Any guests entering the bubble must also test negative twice for Covid-19 in the 72 hours before entering. Any guests testing positive will not be allowed to enter.
Those guests who are admitted will be required to undergo daily testing.
CAN PLAYERS LEAVE?
Players are allowed to leave the bubble in exceptional circumstances but face a mandatory four days in quarantine before being readmitted. Players must also undergo daily testing when they leave the site.
The regulations have already tripped up two NBA players – the Los Angeles Clippers’ Lou Williams was ordered to serve a 10-day quarantine after visiting an Atlanta strip club during a family emergency leave.
Williams was photographed at an Atlanta strip club which he said he visited to get some take-out food.
Richuan Holmes of the Sacramento Kings was also hit with a 10-day quarantine order after leaving the campus to pick up a delivery of chicken wings.
LIFE IN THE BUBBLE
LeBron James joked that leaving his home to enter the bubble was like “heading to do a bid” – a slang term for starting a prison sentence.
But since arriving in Orlando, most players have adjusted to life in their tightly controlled environment. Many have installed creature comforts from home including giant televisions and video game consoles.
A Twitter account – @nbabubblelife – which documents the daily activities of NBA players based in Orlando has quickly amassed a large following, depicting players doing everything from getting haircuts to playing golf or fishing.
Despite being inside the bubble, players are still required to follow conventions such as social distancing and wearing face coverings. Players are also barred from entering each other’s rooms.
WHO IS PLAYING?
Twenty-two teams will complete the season – 13 from the Western Conference and nine from the Eastern Conference.
Invited teams include the 16 franchises who were in the play-off positions when the league halted play in March, plus six teams that were six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in each conference.
Teams will start off with seeding games to determine the final play-off line-up, with the play-offs starting on Aug 17, when each round will be best of seven.
Eastern Conference teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards.
Western Conference teams: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns.