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Heat, NBA stress mental wellness in Disney 'bubble'

Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

A premise of Disney World is sensory overload. Yes, enough to drive you Goofy.

Now, about to head into relative isolation at Disney, a primary concern of the Miami Heat is somewhat the opposite, avoiding sensory deprivation amid an NBA setting that requires quarantining, social distancing and potentially more than three months of living out of the same hotel room.

That has Erik Spoelstra's players talking about being teammates just as much off the court as during the games at the Wide World of Sports complex.

"Developing a routine is going to be very important," 3-point specialist Duncan Robinson said of the league's restart amid the coronavirus pandemic. "The one thing I've learned from this quarantine is that if you're not on top of it with a routine, the days can feel endless and blend together."

In many ways, that will be unavoidable. In order to contain, suppress, and hopefully eliminate the chance of COVID-19 infection amid the league's resumption, there will be limited access for the NBA's players in the "bubble" type of setting and practically no direct access with outsiders.

Remaining active in body shouldn't be an issue, with the NBA playing a compressed schedule that will include three preseason games for each team, eight regular-season "seeding" games, and then four standard best-of-seven playoff rounds, with the Heat already having clinched a postseason berth.

Remaining active in spirit, though, has players recognizing the need to make it about more than the four walls of their living experience.

"The main thing for me is just consistency," guard Goran Dragic said. "A lot of players, they give in to those habits that you're just sitting, watching TV. I told myself, I'm not going to be one of them."

Heat management, and especially the coaching staff, over the years have made a point of keeping players engaged during the dog days or the season and through the pressure of the playoffs.

In 2006, amid the franchise's first championship run, Heat President Pat Riley, then the team's coach, broke up playoff preparations with a surprise private screening of the movie Glory Road.

During the team's Big Three championship runs with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the team brought in a ping-pong table during a playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks to keep the team loose.

"Battles," Bosh recalled last week in his new newsletter, "were intense."

 

Now, the current group that departs by bus Wednesday for Central Florida is accentuating similar team bonding.

"Whatever I've got to do for the team, whether it's making sure I'm going out for lunch with a couple of the young guys and then with a couple of vets for dinner, whatever it may be, we all have to understand there is a sacrifice in place," center Meyers Leonard said.

Rookie guard Tyler Herro said the camaraderie established during a season interrupted by the NBA's March 11 shutdown should be relatively easy to reestablish.

"Our group of guys, we all love being around each other, and we all love being together," he said. "We bond well together. So I'm looking forward to just seeing how we all react to being with each other for a long period of time. I think it'll go really well."

While the NBA will provide mental-health counseling and a wellness center on the Disney campus, Leonard said it will be essential for teammates to take the temperatures of teammates in a non-COVID way.

"I think the mentality and the understanding of being there for others, being of the team, and constantly working toward one goal is what we're going to do," he said. "And that's going to give us a leg up, in my opinion."

To that extent, Leonard said the mental-health checks already have been ongoing, mentioning a string of text messages from Spoelstra.

"We've had discussions for months," Leonard said, "about what this is going to be like."

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