With the COVID-19 pandemic changing how we do, well, everything, the NBA was forced to come up with a new game plan to finish their 2019-2020 season.
The solution—the much-discussed bubble—saw some 300 players from the league's top 22 teams sequestered in one of three Disney World resorts for up to three months as they strive to be crowned champions of this long, strange season.
But what about the those on the outside feeling as if their bubble had burst? With their partners locked down in Florida, scores of women have been left to navigate work responsibilities, bedtime routines, middle-of-the-night feedings, meal prep and, in some cases, even childbirth without their teammate. And now they're speaking exclusively with E! News about that new normal. These are their basketball diaries.
When McKenzie Caldwell-Pope heard about the NBA's plan to sequester her husband and his fellow basketball players in a not-all-that-figurative bubble so they could finish the season and eventually crown a champion, she had two questions.
"My initial reaction was, how is this going to work? And when am I going to see you again?" the wife of Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope recalled to E! News in an exclusive interview earlier this month.
"But because my husband plays for the Lakers," McKenzie continued, "they're like, 'This is our year.' So they were so determined to make it work. I'm just trying to support from home and hold it down."
So far, so good for the mother of three boys, 8-year-old Kenzo, 3-year-old Kentavious Jr. and 1-year-old Kendrix. And while a championship run would mean her husband of four years (who's often familiarly referred to by game announcers as KCP) will be away from home until October, at least hoisting that trophy at the end of perhaps the most fraught, emotionally taxing NBA seasons of all time would suggest the inconvenience was well worth it.
A Caldwell-Pope reunion is more imminent, though, with players being allowed guests inside the bubble starting in the second round. The Lakers are currently up 3-1 over the Portland Trailblazers in their first-round series, Game 5 having been postponed after teams—starting with the Milwaukee Bucks—chose not to play on Wednesday in protest of another police shooting, this one in Kenosha, Wis., about 40 miles from where the Bucks play. At first it was unclear if the playoffs would resume at all, with the Lakers and L.A. Clippers reportedly willing to end the postseason right then and there, but the NBA announced Thursday that they would keep going.
So, if McKenzie wasn't quite sure what to expect in Orlando before, the atmosphere is going to be even more charged now.
The boys of course can't wait to watch their dad play live, but McKenzie hasn't made any promises, considering so far the audiences for these games have consisted of guys on the bench, team staff, a smattering of players from other teams and fans piped in via a technologically impressive yet still weird-when-you-think-about-it video screen—no cardboard cutouts for this league!
"Then I would like to travel with my mom or a nanny," she added. "So I would need at least five spaces. I don't know how that's gonna work and I honestly don't even think they have it figured out yet because we haven't heard anything."
A couple of days after we spoke the NBA re-confirmed in a memo to teams that "player's families and longtime close personal friends" would be allowed in after the first round ended, with up to 17 guest rooms allocated to each team. (Amusingly, per ESPN, the memo spells out that people the guys just know from social media or anyone they haven't met in person before do not qualify.) Moreover, guests are expected to quarantine at home for seven days before they enter the bubble and for seven days at the hotel once they're there, before they can reunite with Dad/Son/Husband/Brother/Partner. And if any guest leaves the bubble, they can't come back.
Really, though, it's just more strangeness piled on top of strangeness, the Caldwell-Popes first getting used to staying put at home in Atlanta after the NBA season was abruptly suspended on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then having to create a new, unprecedented routine once the teams reported for Orlando in early July.
McKenzie spoke to E! News about what it's been like navigating this new normal:
In case next season has to take place in a bubble, too, McKenzie just hopes they've figured out a way for families to stay together. "I really try not to get my hopes up," she said, "but that would be incredible if we can all be together."
She's allowed her hopes to stay high in one respect, however.
When Kentavious gets home, McKenzie said, "hopefully we'll be celebrating a championship." And while she'd love to go on a real getaway, she'd also be good spending a month staycationing in a house all together "because we've been apart for so long, and just live it up...We can just soak it all in, because this is crazy!
"Sometimes I think, 'Oh, it's gonna be okay, things are gonna get back to normal—but what is normal?!"