If the NBA returns this season — and that is still a big “if,” even as much as Adam Silver, owners, and players are all pushing for it — it will be in a fan-less bubble. The idea is simple: House all the players, their families, coaches, staff, broadcasters and everyone else needed to execute games in a hotel, one attached or near a place where games can be played. Everyone lives, eats, and works in the bubble for six weeks to three months (depending on the season form and how long teams stay alive in the postseason).
The MGM Grand in Las Vegas wants to be that place.
With sources around the league saying Orlando’s Walt Disney World complex appeared to be the frontrunner for the bubble, the MGM Grand pitch for a quarantine “enclosed campus” was leaked to Kevin Draper of the New York Times.
According to a proposal deck sent to the N.B.A. and the W.N.B.A., which The New York Times reviewed, MGM envisions a fully quarantined campus, essentially one full block of the Las Vegas Strip, where players would live and play out whatever schedule the leagues want. The athletes would be joined by their families, league and broadcast media employees, as well as the staff and vendors needed to serve them, with access to lounges, spas, restaurants and all the other perks the resorts offer (yes, even gambling)…
The centerpiece of the proposal to the N.B.A. is the Mandalay Bay resort, which has 4,700 rooms at three connected hotels at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip: the Mandalay Bay, the Four Seasons and the Delano. They are also connected by an enclosed walkway to the Luxor hotel, which is where MGM service staff such as housekeepers and caterers would live. As many as 24 basketball courts could be built at the convention center at Mandalay Bay, which hosts the Aces of the W.N.B.A. Five would be used to telecast games, while the others would be for practice.
It sounds promising on paper.
In reality, the logistics of hosting the bubble is anything but simple, especially one that would need to last months (25 days of training camps plus two months for the playoffs alone). That starts with the fact the league will need 15,000 tests to create and maintain the bubble (and right now there are parts of the nation that do not have all the tests they need). Then there are questions about the hotel cleaning staff, chefs, and everyone else with the hotel and how to make sure they don’t bring the virus into the bubble.
Sources around the league have said that Orlando appears to the current a favorite, hosting the event on the Walt Disney World complex and using the ESPN Wide World of Sports facilities (which already hosts numerous basketball events and is broadcast ready). Orlando also has the hotel facilities, but its primary advantage is it is on private property on the Disney complex — it is relatively easy to seal off the area and keep fans out and players in. This MGM offer is clearly aimed to counter that.
One of the concerns in Las Vegas is the draw of the distractions around that city that could lure players and others outside the bubble for a night, risking exposure to the virus.
Right now, the NBA is not ready to go into a bubble, and the bubble is not ready for the NBA. Maybe it will be next month (in June), but the date that Adam Silver has to make a decision is growing closer every day.