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NBA Players Share What It's Like To Live In A 'Bubble'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When professional athletes win championships, sometimes they're paid to make an announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Michael Jordan and the Bulls, you just won your first NBA championship. what are you going to do next?

MICHAEL JORDAN: We're going to Disney World.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yeah.

CHANG: But this year, the championship will be at Disney World. The NBA season restarts tonight. Twenty-two teams have assembled in a corner of the giant Disney resort in Orlando, Fla.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The players are tested for the coronavirus every day. The games are played in empty gyms without fans.

CHANG: And once players are on campus, they have to stay there. It's being called the NBA bubble.

SHAPIRO: At first, what happened inside the bubble was a mystery. But then reporting started to come out from the players themselves.

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MATISSE THYBULLE: People in hazmat suits are here to test me. Let's see how this goes.

CHANG: Matisse Thybulle is a rookie on the Philadelphia 76ers. He's been making videos about his time in the bubble. They're about everything - from the perils of eating alone in quarantine...

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THYBULLE: What's tragic is I don't have a fork. Oh, maybe I'm supposed to use the lid as a spoon. No.

CHANG: ...To spirited conversations with teammate Tobias Harris about resuming the season as Black Lives Matter protests erupt throughout the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOBIAS HARRIS: We don't want to be here and just throw on some T-shirts and think that's getting the job done. So, like, we have to back something real that is going to allow us to actually see and create real change.

SHAPIRO: Thybulle does all the recording and editing himself, and the videos have been a huge viral hit.

THYBULLE: I just thought, you know, like, a couple of thousand people or a couple hundred people might watch. I didn't think I'd have a million views.

CHANG: Another prolific documentarian of the bubble is JaVale McGee, better known here in LA as the starting center for the Lakers.

JAVALE MCGEE: I always wanted to be a producer, but obviously I'm about 7-foot tall and extremely athletic, so I decided to go another route.

SHAPIRO: McGee's documented his time in the bubble from the moment he said goodbye to his family. And in Disney, he has seen a whole new world.

MCGEE: We converted literal hotel rooms into working businesses. So we have a barbershop. We have a beauty shop. We have an ice tub room where it's a literal ice tub in the middle room - no bed, none of that; just the ice tub.

CHANG: And, of course, the players will be playing games with no crowds.

MCGEE: They throw in crowd noises sometimes, and it's kind of weird. I feel like we're in "The Truman Show."

CHANG: It's a new environment, but it's the same league. And for players like Thybulle, it's opened the door to telling his own stories.

THYBULLE: I didn't realize the effect that these videos could have, but I've realized as doing it the door that I've opened to players creating their own content. We're the show, essentially.

SHAPIRO: So as the NBA squeezes into its Disney bubble, fans can now get a little closer to athletes. Turns out it's a small world after all.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND NOMADEN FEAT. MSP'S "SNOWFLAKE (ALBUM MIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.