LeBron James can’t remember how long he’s been under quarantine in Orlando, but he’s said  “It feels like five years.”

Nearly all of us can relate to the L.A. Lakers star – at least on this point. A little bit of lockdown goes a long way.

But you can’t argue with success. The NBA has proven that isolating with your tribe can keep COVID-19 out. The results of this difficult-to-sustain experiment are zero reported COVID-19 cases among players or staff. And there are some takeaways that apply to all of us slogging through everyday life right now.

Here’s how they did it: 22 of the league’s 30 teams traveled to Orlando in July and basically lived, worked and worked out in a bubble – a high-end bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The process started with every player and staffer being tested and isolating in his home city. Then, they flew to Orlando, isolated for 48 hours and were tested again. Once cleared, they could interact with each other. But everyone in the bubble was still required to wear a mask.

It wasn’t just NBA players who made the trek. Coaches, staff, refs – nearly the entire NBA village – has been one, big, (reasonably) happy family for three months. (Or five years, if you’re LeBron James.)

Thanks to their strategy, players’ compliance and frequent testing (every other day), the NBA managed to salvage the season, much to the delight of basketball fans everywhere.   

Because of their standing last season, the Charlotte Hornets were not among teams invited into the Florida bubble. Instead, the team implemented its own version of the Orlando bubble. They quarantined for two weeks at a hotel in south Charlotte.

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Dr. Marcus Cook

“They were tested before they went into the bubble,” said team physician Dr. Marcus Cook of Novant Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.  Cook and his Novant Health colleague, Dr. Joe Garcia, have been team doctors for more than 10 seasons. “They were tested every day at the hotel before getting on a bus that had been sterilized and heading to a local gym.” 

 

Living in a bubble isn’t possible for all professional athletes. NFL teams are comprised of 50-plus  players and a slew of staffers, making the bubble approach all but impossible. And average Americans can’t readily form a bubble, either. Cook, who sees everyday patients in his practice as well, said there are lessons we can take from the NBA’s success.

  • Follow the rules. “The NBA has proven you can protect yourself and others from this virus if you abide by just the basics – wear a face covering when you're out in public and closer than 6 feet to people,” said Cook. “Try to remain 6 feet apart from people and wash your hands frequently. If you don't feel well, don't go out, especially if you have a fever.”

 

  • It takes teamwork. Everyone must be willing to do his or her part. If one person leaves the bubble and re-enters, it puts the whole village at risk. “If we protect each other, we’re going to make it through this,” Cook said. “We are going to have a vaccine – I’m hopeful – in the near future. And that'll make this a lot easier to deal with.”

He added that there are “hundreds of trials happening now and that some are in the third stage, which is one of the last stages before it goes for approval.”

  • Pay attention to science. The NBA relied on scientific data to make its decision to form a bubble. There are plenty of questionable promises of magic cures. Pay no attention. Following what the science tells us is essential to staying safe.
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