As the NBA finalizes plans to return to action at Disney World, specifics about where the players will stay and what they’ll be doing have started to emerge. To many NBA fans and even some of the players, these Disney-specific details are largely arbitrary. They’re mostly focused on basketball, safety concerns and social justice, which is obviously fair, but to big fans of the Mouse House, there’s a lot of intrigue in these details.
The other day we received word the teams would be split between three hotels (The Gran Destino at Coronado Springs, The Grand Floridian and The Yacht Club). Now we’re starting to get a more accurate picture of what the players will be able to do. According to The Athletic, the players will have access to Animal Kingdom, Wild Africa Trek and the NBA Experience. In addition, teams will reportedly be organizing team events including bowling, golf, fishing, boating and team dinners at various restaurants, of which there are some great ones. There’s no word yet on whether there will be waterpark access, but Milwaukee Bucks center and Disney fan Robin Lopez has made it clear he wants to hit up the lazy river at Blizzard Beach…
Obviously everyone involved would much rather play the NBA season at home in front of fans without safety concerns over Covid-19. If that’s not going to happen, however, the best thing the NBA can do is try to give the players and their families a unique and memorable experience. It sounds like they’re really going to get that at Disney. In addition to all of the above, players will also reportedly have access to lounges that include arcade games, ping pong, movie screenings, lawn games and even DJ sets. There will also be barbers, manicurists, pedicurists and, of course, leading health experts to try and help keep everyone safe.
At this point, it's unclear whether the above list is it for the activities or whether there's a chance there will be more the players will have access to. By more, I'm specifically wondering about the other parks. Wild Africa Trek is a luxury nature experience with animals inside the Animal Kingdom Park. So, clearly there will extensive access to Animal Kingdom, probably on a night or nights in which the park closes early to other guests to allow the NBA players access without fear of exposure from the general public, as Disney will also be reopening its doors. But does the lack of reference to Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios mean those will be off limits? Right now, I would have to guess yes since the league has made it clear it doesn't want players to venture out on their own for safety concerns. That being said, this is still an evolving story and we will likely get new details down the road.
The NBA has made participation in Orlando optional. Any player who doesn’t want to attend will not be paid their full salary, but they will also not be considered in violation of their contract and can return next season without any penalties and repercussions. At this point, it’s unclear how many players may skip. There has been some talk about certain players not attending out of a fear of distracting from the social justice and police reform protests, but that chatter has quieted down a bit over the past few days, as it seems the Players Union is working with owners to partner on some initiatives.