Love & Basketball: Inside the Romances NBA Stars Are Missing While in the Bubble

Life inside the NBA bubble includes a chance to fish, work on your golf game and shotgun beers like a champ. One thing that's missing: these slam dunk romances.

By Sarah Grossbart Jul 25, 2020 7:00 AMTags
Related: "Love & Basketball" Turns 20: E! News Rewind

Life in the NBA bubble—it's been providing us with a steady source of amusement since earlier this month when Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid walked into the Orlando facility clad in a full hazmat suit. (Which, respect.) 

Quarantined from the rest of the world in one of three Disney World resorts with some 300 fellow athletes, plus coaching staff and bemused reporters, the whole operation is basically a "basketball camp for millionaires," as USA Today put it, the NBA's biggest star likening it to his days playing competitive basketball as a kid. "When I was growing up, you had AAU days, and once the AAU season is over you go back to your respective cities," LeBron James explained, "and then AAU season starts back up again that next spring and it's like you never left."

Though, we'd argue this is a bit more akin to college. 

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With hours to fill when they're not practicing, consuming the much-dissected watermelon and pita chips on offer in the airplane-style meals or submitting to nightly COVID-19 testing, the league's multi-millionaires are whiling away their days shotgunning cans of Bud Light, having socially distant dance parties on their respective balconies (entering each other's hotel rooms is strictly verboten), fishing and logging so very many hours on Xbox.

"I've been playing video games with other guys on the team," Lakers forward Anthony Davis told the paper. "Everyone has brought their gaming system so we're online playing against each other or being teammates."

One major thing that's missing: their loved ones. Though Miami Heat personnel hung family photos in the team room ("It touched me seeing my daughter on the wall, and I'm sure it touched other players as well," forward Jae Crowder said), the players are still facing a reality of months away from spouses, kids and parents. 

And just weeks in, they've already had to make some tough calls. Guard Alex Caruso skipped his sister's Texas wedding to avoid missing games with his Lakers teammates and there's an outside shot Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward and Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley Jr. could miss the upcoming births of their fourth and second children, respectively. 

Though, as Hawyard notes, leaving the bubble for such an occasion is a pretty easy call. "I've been at the birth of every one of my children, and I think there are more important things in life," the dad to daughters Bernadette, 5, Charlie, 4, and Nora, 19 months, told ESPN of his intentions to be at wife Robyn Hayward's side when she welcomes their son this September. "So we'll cross that bridge when we get there."

Rules permit players to bust out of the bubble for less than a week, provided they quarantine for four days upon their return and test negative for COVID each day, with allowable leaves including situations like the birth of a child or death of a family member. For everyone else, there's texting, FaceTime (Hayward told ESPN he hopes to pitch in with bedtime remotely) and, perhaps, a good, distracting video game session. 

Here's a look at the teammates the NBA's biggest stars have had to leave behind. 

LeBron James & Savannah Brinson

The true MVP of the James' household, Brinson was the small forward's teammate long before he was collecting championships with Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving. And during that first date to an Akron, Ohio Outback Steakhouse, the cheerleader and softball player had no inkling that the basketball standout from her rival high school would go on to rule the NBA. "I just thought he'd be a hometown hero for his era and it would be over," she told Harper's Bazaar

Fast forward a decade or so, and she and 2003's No. 1 draft pick were married at an event so star-studded Beyoncé and Jay-Z were on hand to perform their hit "Crazy in Love." Now raising their brood of three at a $23 million mansion in L.A., where James took his talents to the Lakers, "The only reason why I can do what I do at the highest level both on and off the floor is my because my best friend got my back regardless the outcome!" he wrote in a November tribute. "I'm just the car, she's the engine!"

Kawhi Leonard & Kishele Shipley

A two-time defensive player of the year, the current Los Angeles Clippers forward is also skilled at blocking inquiries into his personal life. At least six years into his romance with fellow San Diego State University alum Shipley, neither has even confirmed if they've wed. And fans were surprised to learn last March that the two-time champ (who, like his partner, doesn't have a public Instagram) missed a game because Shipley had given birth to their second child, son Mark Leonard

"He doesn't give a damn about the stardom," former coach Gregg Popovich has said. Daughter Kaliyah Leonard remains unimpressed as well, the 4-year-old choosing the Raptors' victory parade last summer as the perfect spot to take a nap! 

Stephen & Ayesha Curry

Hard to believe the two-time NBA MVP, who's still at home, his team not qualifying for the NBA's restart, failed to connect on his initial move with now-wife Ayesha. But when the then-Davidson College standout went in for a kiss during a hang with his former youth group pal, she ducked. Thankfully, "We had a do-over!" she told told E! News' Jason Kennedy in October 2017. And a few years after that first kiss in his parents' driveway back in their hometown of Charlotte, he proposed in that very spot. "Yeah, it was like The Notebook," he told Parents

When they discovered months after their 2011 vows they were expecting their first child—future press conference scene-stealer Riley Curry, 8—Ayesha worried she'd never fully find her professional footing. But nearly a decade, two more kids and an entire lifestyle empire later, she's done just fine, her list of titles including cookbook author, Food Network personality, model and philanthropist. Just don't saddle her with the term "basketball wife." As she shrewdly pointed out to ABC News, "I mean, I don't think my husband would call himself 'chef's wife.'"

Bradley Beal & Kamiah Adams-Beal

We love a man who stays on brand. Back in 2016, the Washington Wizard's guard took the beauty entrepreneur "to the top of the Ferris wheel in Vegas, and asked me to be your girlfriend," she shared on Instagram. Four years and two sons—2-year-old Bradley Beal Jr. and 11-month-old Braylon Beal Jr.—he brought her to a similar ride in Maryland. "Now the second time you're on a Ferris wheel, I'm asking you to be my wife," the two-time All-Star said in clip of his January proposal

Her answer, of course, was an unequivocal yes. "No one else id rather spend my life with," the XO By Kamiah founder wrote. "Thank you for helping me evolve into the woman I've become, and for constantly challenging me to become better each and everyday."

Kyle Lowry & Ayahna Cornish-Lowry

As St. Joe's best offensive player for two consecutive seasons in the mid-2000s, guard Cornish-Lowry isn't your typical courtside cheerleader. Sharing with Canadian lifestyle site The Kit last May that she prefers "to be close to the action," the mom of sons Karter Lowry, 8, and Kameron Lowry, 5, said she doesn't just zero in on her husband of six years, rather she's taking in every set that the Raptors run: "I don't focus in on just Kyle, I try to watch the whole game and the whole team and see what's going on. I love watching it from a basketball eye."

And she's not afraid to give the six-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, her take on how he's running the floor. "He'll come up to me during time-outs, that's how close I am," she said of the point guard, her sweetheart since their days at Philadelphia's Cardinal Dougherty High. "If I see something, I try to mouth it to him. Maybe he'll get it."

Draymond Green & Hazel Renee

The Warriors' outspoken three-time All-Star isn't exactly known for his subtlety. So when he asked girlfriend Hazel Renee to be his bride in January 2019, he went full court press. There was a helicopter ride to a yacht filled with their family, friends and kids Olive Jay, 5, and Draymond Jamal Green Jr., 3, a six-carat Jason of Beverly Hills diamond and no less than Golden State coach Steve Kerr spilling the news to the press.

After sharing that he and the Empire actress were holding their vows around a planned return trip to the Olympics this summer, COVID-19 forced them to reschedule. Not that the former Michigan State standout is all that put out. (Plus the Warriors' lackluster season meant he's skipping bubble life.) "Our journey that we are on has been nothing short of amazing!" he wrote in an April birthday tribute. "Through the good and bad times you continue to be the rock of our family."

Russell Westbrook & Nina Earl Westbrook

Known for racking up the points, Houston's latest addition recently took on the role of cheerleader, hyping up his bride as she nailed shot after shot in a March Instagram video. And it's not as if he was blowing hot air. Now a licensed marriage and couples therapist, Earl Westbrook was once UCLA's fastest players when she spied a flashy young point guard winking at her as he nailed a breakaway dunk. "You were pretty good out there tonight," she reportedly told him after the game. "It's easy to play like that when you have someone to play for," he shot back. 

More than a decade later they're juggling their Why Not? children's foundation with raising 3-year-old son Noah Westbrook, 20-month-old twin daughters Skye Westbrook and Jordyn Westbrook and enjoying the occasional dinner-and-a-movie night in. "There is not a thing you won't do to bring a laughter and joy to our children's life," she raved in a Father's Day post. "You are the coolest dad, the definition of fun, and the embodiment of love."

Kevin Love & Kate Bock

At this point, it's unclear who gets more play in Sports Illustrated—the Cavaliers' big man or the Swimsuit Issue cover girl, a fixture since being named Rookie of the Year in 2013. Not that her guy is feeling competitive. "This is a timeless cover," he wrote of the 2020 edition in a congratulatory post. "It could not be a better representation of the beautiful woman you are and continue to be. I'm just so happy for you."

Some five years in, the New York-based model and the five-time All-Star power forward aren't sweating their long-distance status. "Luckily, it's not very far. Cleveland is only like an hour-long flight from New York," the Vancouver native explained to Ocean Drive mag back in 2017. "So I go back and forth between here and there and jobs, and then sometimes meet him on the road if it makes sense, so I see him pretty often even though we live in different cities and both travel for work. We make it work." And with the Cavs one of eight teams not qualifying for the season restart, the two are free to continue their altogether successful quarantine with pup Vestry. As she wrote in a June 'gram, "100 days in and I still look forward to hanging with them when I wake up every morning."

Chris Paul & Jada Crawley

You know you're basketball royalty when your wedding party includes LeBron James and his bride Savannah Brinson. In fact, everyone from Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony (plus Gabrielle Union and LaLa Anthony) to Ludacris and Kevin Hart turned out for the duo's 2011 Charlotte vows, with no less than Robin Thicke providing the wedding music. 

And while an in-ceremony performance by gospel legend BeBe Winans and some 10,000 roses, orchids and hydrangeas is nice, nothing is more important to the Thunder's 10-time All-Star than his top teammate. His day one since they met at Wake Forest University, "I truly love Jada; she has been there for the ups and the downs," he told Essence of the philanthropist, mom to Christopher Paul II, 11, and Camryn Paul, 7. "Basketball isn't going to last forever. Jada and I love spending time with each other, genuinely."

Al Horford & Amelia Vega

In the Horford family, it's the 76ers power forward's bride that truly holds court. The model and singer's titles include Miss Dominican Republic 2002 and Miss Universe 2003. Though it took two meetings, the first at the Latin Pride Awards in Boston and the second four years later working together on a campaign for children with cancer, the Dominican born five-time All-Star said he was confident early on that he'd found his forever teammate. "We started dating and became pretty obvious that she was the right person for me. It just felt right," he told Latina in 2013. "I would always make fun of people, or wouldn't believe something like that was true. I felt right with her and I knew that I wanted to marry her."

More than eight years in, "Married life is awesome," said the University of Florida standout, dad to Ean Horford, 5, Alía Horford, 3, and Ava Horford, 2, with the Miami boutique owner. "We're building something special—our lives together."

Jrue & Lauren Holiday

Back in 2008 when the New Orleans Pelicans guard was a stand-out freshman at UCLA, an autograph seeker approached him at a women's basketball game, thinking he was his teammate Darren Collison. Witnessing the whole exchange, Lauren, a member of the Bruins soccer team, chimed in, "Don't worry, you're cuter than Darren." 

It's a decidedly adorable meet-cute, but the rest of their love story is even better. Retired from the national women's team, the World Cup champ and two-time gold medalist was nearly five months pregnant when she learned she had a brain tumor. Without thought, Jrue took a months-long sabbatical from his NBA gig in 2016 to be at his bride's side until the meningioma was successfully removed. Now a devoted father to their 3-year-old daughter Drue, "You show us everyday what unconditional love looks like," Lauren wrote in a Father's Day tribute. You show up for us on your best and your worst days and it never feels like you give us any less."

Gordon & Robyn Hayward

Just a few years removed from his career at Butler University, the forward, then with the Utah Jazz, shot his shot, asking recent high school grad Robyn to be his bride on Christmas Eve 2013. Married the following May, the athletes—she was a standout volleyball player at her Indiana high school—have steadily been putting together their own squad ever since. 

With the 2017 All-Star in the bubble, Robyn will be playing zone with their three daughters for the next few months. "We're so grateful for the time we've had together but in a way that makes it harder especially for the girls," she wrote in an emotional tribute earlier this month. "We miss you so much and are almost done crying, but we love you and we're so excited to watch you play!"