Published 6: 00 AM EDT May 29, 2020
It may be a small world after all for the NBA if it is going to resume play this summer.
The league is finalizing plans to play out the 2019-20 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida in late July.
While it hasn’t been decided if all 30 teams will be there, or if play will pick-up with the playoffs and maybe 24 teams, it’s clear that the NBA is working to fit all of its teams its into the Disney complex.
There will be no fans and teams will be quarantined and instructed to follow social-distancing protocols because of the novel coronavirus. But the complex has plenty to offer to keep players from going stir crazy.
Those who have participated in events there, including coaches of men’s college basketball teams and AAU and youth programs, liked the NBA’s plan because of the complex’s vast facilities, nearby amenities and safety protocols.
“It’s a good idea,” said Fairfield coach Jay Young, whose team participated in last season’s Orlando Invitational. “There is plenty of space and courts. The hotel space down there is as good as you’re going to get in the country. I thought it made a lot of sense, especially if you want to try to keep the players and staff as safe as possible.”
Since opening in 1997, the Wide World of Sports Complex has hosted a variety of basketball events.
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In addition to the Orlando Invitational, there has been the Jr. NBA Global Championships, AAU boys and girls basketball tournaments and Small Fry Basketball, a league for players under 12 years old who are also under 5-1, with alumni including Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea and former Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Van Excel.
“If you’re a great basketball player, you’ve played in that building,” said Donnie Arey, an assistant coach at Warner University, an NAIA school in Lake Wales, Florida “If there is an NBA player or coach that has never walked onto that place before, I would be shocked.”
Where games are played
HP Field House is a 70,000 square-foot facility that has six basketball courts, including four on the main level and two upstairs on an auxiliary court. According to its website, The Arena has room for two auxiliary venue spaces, and the Visa Athletic Center has room for six to eight courts.
The NBA has not finalized logistics since it plans to have a Board of Governor’s meeting on Friday to elicit proposals about the season’s format. But the NBA will likely to try to have at least three courts for games.
“It’s not an elite NBA arena. It’s an arena/sports complex,” Southern Cal associate head coach Jason Hart said. “It’s a good feel for a college basketball game. But it’s not a big arena. It’s very intimate.”
HP Field House, which holds up to 5,000 seats, could serve as the main venue since it also hosted the Orlando Invitational. The Visa Athletic Center is a possibility, too. Since the games will be held without fans, some coaches believe that might make it easier for players than if they played in an empty NBA arena that usually has around 18,000 seats.
Nonetheless, players might have adjustments with the locker room amenities.
“It’s much more like the visitor’s locker room,” Davidson men’s basketball coach Bob McKillop said. “It’s clean and there’s enough space. But it doesn’t have the same nuances if you’re the home team. It’s far and vastly different than what the NBA guys are accustomed to. There’s not wide-open space in the locker room. It’s much more of a maze. There are a lot of lockers and space, but it’s not as wide open as they usually have.”
How teams practice
This setup depends on how many teams are competing. But the Visa Athletic Center could feature six to eight courts. The NBA could also create practice courts at team hotels.
Coaches liked that the venues arewithin walking distance. McKillop said one of the courts had a hard floor that would not be optimal for players’ knees. But the NBA plans to ensure all the courts meet its safety standards.
“They’re not going to be what the NBA players are accustomed to with the organization’s practice facilities. But they can get the job done,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “But there is certainly plenty of space.”
There could also be plenty of on-site staff, depending how the NBA plans to support games and practice.
“As an AAU coach, you’re used to bringing your own basketballs. You’re used to dealing with score-keeper problems because there are so many tournaments out there,” said Jack Lutzeier, who oversees The National Basketball Academy and runs various AAU programs in Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin and Florida. “But Disney hires all of their scorekeepers and has a three-man crew at every game. AAU basketball puts Gatorade in Gatorade coolers. There is a cleanup for each game. They do everything at a high level.”
Where teams stay
Players should not be concerned about the area hotels. The NBA does not plan to house any of the teams in economy-based hotels. Though the NBA is still finalizing those logistics, it plans to house teams only at Disney properties. According to its website, there are 25 luxury hotels, including “The Contemporary,” The Grand Floridian,” “The Riviera” and “The Yacht and Beach Club.”
“They’re Vegas casino hotels,” Harvard assistant coach Brian Eskildsen. “They’re massive.”
The teams that participated at the Orlando Invitational stayed at the Gaylord Palms Resort, a Marriott property that was within close proximity of various golf and boating facilities. Coaches liked that the hotel had enough room to host meetings as well.
“The hotel situation will have a different feel. But I don’t think that is a bad thing, especially if you have your family there,” Southern Cal men’s basketball coach Andy Enfield said. “If you have your family, I’m sure during the day the children will enjoy some of the amenities of a hotel designed for tourism.”
In addition to staying at hotels closed, players will stay out of other public areas to maintain some degree of a bubble. The NBA also plans to conduct rigorous testing.
“Disney operates only in a first-class manner. They don’t shortcut anything,” said Jeff Milkie, the executive director of Small Fry Basketball. “They will be able to secure the players and keep people away from them. There are only certain roads into Disney and only certain roads out. They’re going to be able to control the traffic, the media and everything.”
Because of that setup, past participants anticipate minimal hiccups.
“There’s going to have to be some concessions,” Wojciechowski said. “They’re not going back to normal. But when you look at all the things needed to finish an NBA season, whether it’s the arena, practice facilities, hotels, convenience and nice weather, there’s a lot of reasons why it makes total sense.”
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