Andy talks with L.A. Times journalists Brad Turner and Dan Woike on the final episode of “Restarting the Clock.” All three had just returned from the bubble and reminisce about the unusual conditions for the end of the 2020 season.
“It’s weird from going from inside the bubble to being out back in the world,” Woike said. “It is a scary place out there. I feel like a baby bird out of the nest for the first time.”
Turner and Woike replaced their colleagues Tania Ganguli and Andre Greiff who took the first shift of L.A. Times reporters.
Woike spent 52 days in the bubble and recalls his first game.
“The Clippers won by 95 points, it was a trouncing. I got to see a 55-point blowout and then I was basically just in my room, which I guess was good quarantine practice because I did that for a week,” Woike said.
Woike made the most of his in-room quarantine by walking six miles in the confines of his room each day. Woike says there were six steps between the window to the bathroom and he would put on a podcast while walking laps.
“Everybody walked by and would see me pacing lunatic, and I didn’t want to shut the blinds because I wanted the light. I was making myself dizzy because you turn around so quickly. It’s like swimming laps,” Woike said.
Turner had yellow level media access which allowed him less court-level access but gave him the freedom to leave the Disney complex. He drove to and from games while quarantining in a nearby hotel.
“Generally speaking, the bubble was a very positive experience. I think one of the things that I learned about myself was how much I like meeting people. That’s one of the things like the pandemic stole from us,” Woike said. “One of the great experiences was getting to know the refs.”
They reminisce about the differences in watching games from inside the bubble versus being courtside pre-pandemic. The restrictions to players changed the workflow for everyone in the bubble.
“I understood that seeing these guys face-to-face was not going to happen,” Turner said. “It just meant doing things differently. It meant making more phone calls, or texting more.”
Woike and Turner described the virtual conference system the NBA used to allow reporters to interact with players from a safe distance.
“One thing that was really bizarre is to a press conference, especially in the Finals. There were 12 people there, maybe 10, and all the chairs were socially distant. We’re used to being at a Finals press conference with 100 media people,” Bernstein said.
He contrasted this to a media day with Larry Bird in 1986 that overflowed from the locker room area and had to be held on the court.
“There was so many media Boston Garden that they had to pull Larry out of the locker room area. There were hundreds of microphones in his face, it was just kind of jarring to see that.”
In addition to the limited press conferences, no fans attended the NBA games. The NBA projected fans and crowd noise into the arena to create a more exciting atmosphere.
“Do you remember in elementary school when you would have to make those dioramas in the shoebox? You’d stand up on its side and there’d be like a scene and there’s nothing behind it. That’s what it kind of looked like. It was like this living breathing basketball game that got dropped down in the center of something,” Woike said.
Despite these challenges, the bubble allowed for some unexpected moments. Turner recalls chatting one-on-one with Pat Riley while in the yellow media zone.
“He starts to tell a Mychal Thompson story about the Lakers. I’m just glued to this because it’s Pat Riley, this legend, telling me Laker stories for 10 minutes. I’m thinking to myself, man, this is really, really good. This would not happen if we were at a game in Miami,” Turner said.
“The intimacy of all this was really cool,” Woike said. “I tweeted this one afternoon during the conference finals when Gary Harris was in front of the Lakers bench with about nine on the shot clock and Jared Dudley and Markiefff Morris started the shot clock countdown like they’re in like seventh grade. But they’re doing ‘three, two, one.’ He took the shot and it was a bad shot. He missed it badly and the Laker bench went nuts. I was way more locked into that stuff. It was great to watch sort of the interactions, the trash-talking, the arguing. I think normally we would miss that.”
This postseason was also unique for its focus on social justice and advocacy for racial equality.
In August, NBA players paused play in protest of the death of Jacob Blake and there were questions as to whether the season would continue. Players resumed games and used the momentum to continue to fight for justice.
“I thought it was smart to come back to play. If you stand together as a group, there’s more power in the group. I’m glad they stayed because it gave them a chance up until the very end…to keep speaking out about social justice, police brutality, all the things that were on their minds,” Turner said.
“There’s probably four or five guys maybe in the NBA, who have a platform really whenever they want it. If LeBron James wants to talk about Breonna Taylor, he could do it, whether he’s in the bubble, he could do it on his Instagram, he could do it wherever. That voice is going to be amplified the same no matter what. That’s not true for Jeremi Grant, that’s not true for Jamal Murray. I think by staying the recognition of the moment extended beyond the stars. This was going to be something that affected everybody individually,” Woike said.
“We watched players have to sort of carry that burden of being both a player and an activist. It was hard on guys, you could see it. It was a challenge. It sort of demanded everybody. It was really powerful. I just think that the moment demanded a lot of its players from the players. By and large, they handled it really well.”
Next, Andy posed a question about the legacy of LeBron James. After L.A. won the championship and James won his fourth ring, many dubbed him one of the greatest Lakers.
“I mean, we got to go back to George Mike, Dubrow and then you have Jerry West, Kareem and Magic…then you go to Kobe and Shaq. You also have these great players Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher. I don’t know if LeBron has quite gotten there with Laker fans,” Turner said. “My response is ‘What about Kobe?’” He’s the guy.”
“I think LeBron kind of transcends the colors that he wears. There’s no question he’s the third or second greatest player of all time. But I think he’s a better all-time great NBA player, he doesn’t really feel like a Laker, just like he doesn’t really feel like a member of the Miami Heat, or the Cleveland Cavaliers…he’s just sort of of the league and of the world…he’s closer to being the logo of the league than to being of any particular team,” Woike said.
Listen to Woike, Turner, and Bernstein discuss the mental health challenges of being in the bubble and their thoughts on what the league’s 2021 season may look like.
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