With 22 teams, including the Jazz, now inside the NBA’s strange kind of bio-dome in Orlando, it’s become apparent that some players have reacted negatively to the initial days of bubble life.
In the time of the coronavirus, they don’t like the anxiety, the isolation, the lack of … how to say this … physical socialization, the food, the accommodation, the confinement, the living, the existing.
I feel them, man. And I’ve got some advice.
What qualifies me to give it? I survived the MTC in Provo.
You guys can listen to me, then, trust me.
For the uninitiated, the Missionary Training Center is the place where new missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints go to learn how to live the mission life, how to speak the language of the country to which they’ve been assigned, how to survive.
It’s not boot camp, but it isn’t easy.
Some missionaries, many of whom are 18 to 23 years old, call it the Spirit Prison, some call it names that cannot be written here. If it’s not a hell-hole, it’s a heaven-hole.
But a hole’s a hole.
That’s the way it was back in the day, at least, some 44 years ago, and it likely hasn’t changed much. It’s a place to test your resolve, to find strength in your inner-self, to stir up your spirituality and twist your mental and psychological well-being far beyond what you NBA players are facing in Walt’s World, but there are similarities, too.
Like the call for self-discipline, self-denial, going with the flow, going without everything else, all while focusing on your purpose for being there. For me, it wasn’t basketball, it was brotherly kindness.
In short, you pour everything into it with an eye single to the glory, or you drag butt. Only you can decide what it’s going to be.
You want … um, attention from the opposite sex? You can’t even look at a woman — or a man — there. It’s a haven for … or it was, anyway, before COVID-19 … handshakes and bro-hugs.
That’s it. Nothing else. And for missionaries, that complete absence goes on for two years. It’s a bit more comprehensive than in your — the players’ — case, a few weeks at a Disney resort. No need to be sneaking women into the bubble for any favors. You can find a way to get by. Somehow.
At 19, I walked through the door at the MTC, one that slammed shut behind me. Missionaries generally went to a large room accompanied by family members and friends where a few words were spoken, and then the young recruits were funneled through one door and everybody else through another. That was the way they did back then, and they might have changed it a bit since.
But that separation, that goodbye is pretty traumatic, regardless. See you in two years.
Boom. And gone.
From there, it’s a step into a strange new world, where the food is not great — I lost 15 pounds in eight weeks, eating pancakes that tasted like sponges, meats and cheeses that looked like they were concocted in a lab somewhere, and prefab desserts created in bulk — and the decor was utilitarian, the walls in the dorm rooms and the classrooms were cinderblock. Pretty much we were confined to the campus around us.
I was required to speak German almost all the time, even though I had learned just a few sentences, since I was headed to the area around Dusseldorf.
NBA players don’t have it so rough.
But their — your — first days stuck in rooms in a new environment away from home, away from loved ones, away from regular lives, are weird. They — you — can’t move around much, they — you — are just kind of stuck.
Maybe they — you — believe in their — your — cause. I did.
Maybe you want to play basketball. You want to do the right thing. You want to be productive. You want to do your job. You want to win.
The more you win, the longer you stay in the bubble.
You’ll get paid in millions. I was looking for blessings of a different kind.
There are critics who have ripped the players who have complained, calling them tone-deaf, with the nation going through what it’s going through, people suffering without work, people looking for ways to get by, to pay their bills, people nervous about COVID-19, people worried about the health of their friends and loved ones, people burdened by troubles that plague their country and world.
You NBA players have many of the same concerns, without so much of the same financial distress.
But you are outside your normal elements, whatever normal is, anymore.
You are weathering a different kind of lockdown in a different kind of place.
You are supposed to be appreciating your chance to do what others can’t.
I get all that.
But it’s still a challenge because it is so … freaking altered.
You stay in your room, with your favorite video-game set-up, you go to the gym, you practice, you go back to your room. You order food. If you feel particularly adventurous, you play ping-pong, but never, ever, doubles ping-pong, because that’s forbidden by the league. In time, maybe you’ll play some golf.
But you do not leave the premises, not to visit anyone, not to get a preferred burger, not to explore outside a Wide World of Sports that isn’t all that wide.
It’s for your own safety, for the safety of everyone else, for the NBA’s bottom line, for your own substantial paycheck.
It’s a sacrifice, I know. There are a hundred pages of rules to follow, many of them outside your typical comportment. Kind of like the missionary handbook. Remember, a goal not written is only a wish.
Anyway, here’s the crux of it. You can power through. If you need a mental-health professional’s help to do so, get it. In time, if you keep winning, the league might even let your loved ones into the bubble, in limited measure. I don’t know what the definition of loved ones is, how expansive that is, and maybe only you can define that.
But, again, here’s the thing: You’ll make it through. You can consume those Mickey Mouse waffles, day after day after day after day, and live to tell the tale.
They used to say an LDS mission is a two-year-non-paid non-vacation to a place not of your choice. You’re on a paid one-two-or-three-month basketball excursion to a place not of your choice.
You will survive.
If I could, you can.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.