The LA Clippers are leading the way to allow friends and family in the NBA’s restart in Orlando.
Per Sam Amick of The Athletic (subscription required), there is a growing movement among NBA players and coaches that seeks to have the league allow one friend or family member in the Orlando “bubble.” A movement that the Clippers themselves have been very vocal about, according to personnel with knowledge of recent NBA conference calls. Being singled out in one instance by another team’s GM who stated that the Clippers have “been fighting for it.” The concern that drives this movement being that separation from loved ones for so long could be detrimental not only to player psyche, but to the on-court product.
Friends and family will of course be welcome to teams that progress past the first round of the playoffs, but there will be a significant chunk of time to pass before anyone reaches that point. In particular, for teams that are being invited to participate, but lacking a true shot at accomplishing something, staying engaged could be more of a challenge. Sam highlighted this very nicely:
“After all that time of solitude, celibacy and enough games of NBA2K and ping pong to make your eyes glaze over, how bad might the basketball look if players who don’t see a path to a title simply decide they want to head for the comforts of home?”
Even for the teams that do eventually progress beyond the first round of the playoffs, they’d be away from family and friends until September. The fact that players are being removed from their natural routines non-withstanding, being barred from physical contact with loved ones for six to seven weeks would understandably hurt morale for even the most patient among us.
Following the Clippers, you’ll see that they would certainly be impacted by this in no small way. As a group that features more than a few veterans, they’re generally guys that are used to spending their time off the court with growing families, significant others, and a close group of friends. They’re as big a part of a player’s routine as anything, functioning as a mental escape from the game–it would undoubtedly be a shock to the system for them to suddenly be put into a situation of isolation like this. Video calls with friends and family are nice, but to have someone besides fellow players to spend time with and talk to in person is invaluable to one’s mental health.
Amick notes that a potential solution for this would be to restrict competition to only the top sixteen teams. Thereby freeing up living space, and bumping up the timeline for friends or family that players would bring with them anyway after progressing through the first round of the playoffs. Restrictions would remain the same as they would be further along in the playoffs, but it would at least be less jarring for players in attendance and remove some of the league’s more unnecessary (I mean that in the best possible way) participants, for whom they’d be liable.
Mental health of players and staff while isolated is of course paramount. But the potential impact to the product and pocketbooks of whoever is running the show (looking at you, Disney) may inspire the NBA to consider this request. Adam Silver has repeatedly stated that the situation is fluid. Perhaps this is something that will actually be considered.