Week two of Legends Of Sport’s Restarting the Clock series focuses on how teams and players are preparing for the unprecedented experience of the Orlando bubble and what it may look like when games start. Andy talks with legendary NBA head athletic trainer, Gary Vitti, and iconic sports journalist, Howard Beck, as 22 NBA teams arrive and get to work in the bubble in Orlando.
Beck says that this will be the most challenging postseason for NBA reporters, there will only be 10 print media reporters allowed in the bubble.
“This is going to be probably the most challenging postseason from a reporter standpoint that I’ve seen in my 23 years of covering the league and that I think all of my peers have seen,” said Beck, who is currently the national NBA writer for Bleacher Report and hosts the podcast “The Full 48”.
Beck describes challenges in access to players and the strangeness of being sequestered potentially until October.
“We’re trying to find the stories beneath the surface. Insight, explanations, anecdotes, exchanges between players on the off-day, and what they said that allowed them to kind of figure out the way to attack. It’s all this stuff, right? That’s reporting. That’s what sportswriters do,” said Beck.
Although he won’t be among the ten print reporters in the bubble, Beck will be covering the NBA from home. He says that the “vast majority of NBA media” will be covering the postseason from their living rooms through daily zoom calls and phone calls.
Not only will the media have to adjust their coverage of the games, but fans should also prepare themselves for a different viewing experience. Former NBA trainer, Gary Vitti, says that the dynamic between players and teams will be different than previous postseasons.
“Be a little bit patient. Guys are going to be rusty. But everybody is in the same boat,” Vitti said.
Beck added, “Guys have been off for three and a half months. It’s the longest these guys have gone without playing basketball in their adult lives, maybe their lives period since they were children. And we don’t know what the effects of that will be.”
Vitti notes that the players participating in the bubble are the top-tier players and, despite the unexpected pause, players will quickly adapt.
“These are great, really well-trained athletes. This is like taking a greyhound or a thoroughbred racehorse and saying, okay, you can’t race. Well, they still want to run around…They still want to do stuff. I mean, the greyhound is not just going to go lay down,” Vitti said. “I think there’s an innate thing that these athletes have that they’ve been working probably more than you would think.”
Beck offered a different perspective, “They’re starting from scratch with a rushed training camp and then eight seeding games, many of which will be played against teams that have no shot at the playoffs. They’re going to be like glorified exhibition games.”
Both Beck and Vitti agreed that the postseason will be one to remember. Players and teams will face new, unpredictable challenges. Playing in the bubble means there will be no fans, no home court advantage, and new routines to adjust to, coupled with the general anxiety about the pandemic.
“A lot of things that we’re used to seeing baked into the NBA that just won’t be part of this postseason,” said Beck. “But if the basketball looks like NBA playoff quality basketball and a champion is crowned sometimes in early to mid-October and minimal guys get hurt or get taken out by the virus at some point, then I think everybody will walk away feeling pretty great about it. And that scenario is on the table. It is in the realm of possibility. That is an idealized scenario.”
Despite all these hurdles, Vitti is confident that the NBA will prioritize the health and safety of their staff and players. He notes that the players and staff who are going to the bubble are making a huge sacrifice to continue to play.
“The NBA always does the right thing for the players…Think about the sacrifice that they’re making. They’re taking three months of their lives away from their family, their friends, their routines,” Vitti said. “I think you have to congratulate these people and appreciate everything that they’re doing, starting with Adam Silver and down to all of the players and ownership and management and staff people. I mean, this is a big thing. It’s historic.”