Walt Disney World will be the center of the pro basketball universe this summer, as the NBA has officially announced it will finish its season & playoffs at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex! In this post, we’ll cover the official details, plus info about how the bubble-site environment will work at WDW, and how it could impact your trip. (Updated June 26, 2020.)
Game play will resume on July 30, 2020 with 22 teams (the eight teams in each conference with the highest current winning percentages and the six teams currently within six games of the eighth seed in either conference) competing to determine seeding for the NBA Playoffs. The playoffs will feature 16 teams and the NBA Finals will end no later than October 13 at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Games will be held in the Arena, HP Field House and Visa Athletic Center.
Based on current league guidelines which were developed in consultation with public health experts and government officials, all games will be held without spectators. We’ve been following this story for a while, and even though the official announcement came today, it has been a done-deal for the last week. Here’s some additional details from our last update…
Last week, NBA players and teams were sent a detailed info packet outlining the Walt Disney World bubble-site environment for playing out the remainder of the regular season and playoffs at ESPN Wide World of Sports. The 100+ page packet contains the plans ironed out between Walt Disney World and the NBA.
The first big thing about which many of you will care is accommodations. Before we delve into this, we want to (once again) reiterate that this is not happening at the expense of regular Walt Disney World guests. If you have an upcoming hotel reservation at the impacted hotels, you will be relocated–which would be the case regardless of the NBA.
Viewing this as Disney making a “choice” between regular paying guests and the NBA (which is also paying big bucks to rent out resorts and event space) is a false one. The real choice was renting resorts out to the NBA or not opening them at all. Walt Disney World has already made it clear that some hotels will not reopen in the near future–or perhaps at all this year.
In our view, there is absolutely no downside for regular guests to the NBA playing its season at Walt Disney World. To the contrary, this move is beneficial for the long-term health of both Walt Disney World and the Walt Disney Company as a whole.
This move will help reemploy Cast Members and support staff, while also giving ESPN and ABC content to air. Given how hard Disney has been hit by the pandemic and the amount of debt the company has taken on during this time, Walt Disney World being the host venue for professional sports should be viewed as a good thing by anyone who cares about the long term health and viability of Disney.
Sorry to sound like a broken record on this point, but judging by reader comments, too many Disney fans don’t get why this is happening and what the alternative actually is. Suffice to say, it’s delusional to think the NBA is what will “cause” your Coronado Springs (or wherever) reservation to be moved. That would’ve happened regardless, as the root cause is the pandemic and ensuing economic fallout. The NBA is a partial solution to the larger problem–nothing more, nothing less.
Just something to keep in mind as you read this, before getting up in arms…
According to NBA insiders, three Walt Disney World hotels will be utilized by the 22 teams invited to Orlando. The “main campus” will be Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, which will be utilized for its flexible event space and housing.
Gran Destino Tower will host the championship contenders: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat.
The likely middle seeds will stay at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. These teams include the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Memphis Grizzlies.
Playoff bubble teams will stay at the Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. These teams include the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, and Washington Wizards.
Teams that advance beyond the first round of the playoffs will be given 17 hotel rooms to book for guests to stay on the campus (these will likely be at Gran Destino/Coronado Springs).
Interestingly, players will be responsible for the costs of these rooms. Guests must quarantine for three days in their home market or in Orlando outside of the campus before entering the campus, where they’ll need to quarantine and test again.
While it’s amusing to WDW fans that Gran Destino Tower is being treated as the ‘top seed’ resort, it’s actually pretty nice when viewed in isolation and divorced from Walt Disney World context.
If you don’t care about theme, location, proximity to parks, transportation, or pools (and all of this likely won’t matter to the NBA), the argument could be made that Gran Destino is the best of the bunch.
There’s also the practical reality of returning Yacht Club and Grand Floridian to Walt Disney World as soon as possible, so those resorts could potentially reopen to the general public (if demand so dictates) sooner rather than later. That would explain why the teams with lower chances of making or advancing in the playoffs are being placed in those properties.
As-is, it’ll be interesting to see how Walt Disney World manages to operate the Villas at Grand Floridian for Disney Vacation Club guests while maintaining the ‘bubble site’ at the adjacent Grand Floridian Resort for the NBA. (That’s the one spot where we could see the guest experience being negatively impacted.)
As we’ve noted before, we wouldn’t be surprised if Coronado Springs Resort does not reopen to the general public at all this year, so it’s really no issue for that resort to be blocked out by the NBA through mid-October.
While on Walt Disney World property, players will have plenty of opportunities for entertainment. Each hotel has a players-only lounge with televisions, NBA2k20, arcade games and ping-pong tables.
Disney will make first-run movies available for players and their families. This is likely to include movies that have not been released to the general public, including Marvel’s Black Widow.
The resorts will set up outdoor space for recreation, including pool access, card games, and lawn games. There will be opportunities for teams to go fishing, golfing, bowling, boating, bike riding, and running.
There will also be excursions to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for Wild Africa Trek and (no joke), NBA Experience, and private after-hours access to Walt Disney World’s four theme parks. Outside entertainment may be brought in to Walt Disney World by the NBA, including private performances by bands, DJs, and comedians.
The hotels will offer 24-hour VIP concierge service, and there will be barbers, manicurists, pedicurists, a virtual chaplain, yoga, meditation, and mental health services available.
Each team will have a designated their own Walt Disney World culinary team to provide customized cuisine. Meals will be served in individual portions rather than buffet-style. Players and teams may also hire private chefs who will work off the Disney campus and deliver meals. Other outside food will be extremely limited.
MagicBands will be mandatory for everyone in Walt Disney World’s NBA bubble. They will function as room key, security check points, plus testing check-ins, and more.
Players may also choose to wear alarms to notify them if someone else wearing an alarm is within 6 feet for more than 5 seconds. All team and league staff will be required to wear these alarms.
All players and NBA personnel will be expected to wear masks on the campus except while in their rooms, eating, working out or practicing, or engaging in physically distant activities.
NBA players will not be prevented from leaving Walt Disney World, but for all practical purposes it is a closed (rather than opened) campus. If players leave, they need to quarantine for 4-10 days upon returning, depending on circumstances. Tests upon returning will also include the more invasive nasal swabs. Players will also be deducted pay for any games they are forced to miss for leaving the campus.
Walt Disney World security will be trained to recognize NBA personnel, but will not report on movement. Any movement in and out of the resorts will be tracked by NBA security.
On this note, a couple of interesting tweets from insider Keith Smith (his entire thread is worth a read), which are quotes from his Walt Disney World source: “When President Barack Obama visited Magic Kingdom in 2012, we had safety and security protocols unlike any we’ve had in our Florida history. We’re bringing many of those back for the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex during the NBA/MLS stay.”
“Hosting the NBA and MLS is one of the biggest undertakings we’ve had since opening Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We’re excited that the NBA and MLS have chosen to trust us and we feel we are uniquely positioned to handle this sort of venture.
Other major details out of the packets concern logistics for arrival, self-quarantines upon arrival, and how players and NBA staff will be subjected to regular testing. All of that has been largely covered before, and even if not, is probably beyond the interest of most readers of this blog.
Overall, it sounds like a pretty posh playground and the idea of staying at Walt Disney World for 2-3 full months would be a dream deal…for Disney fans. On the other hand, if you were a professional athlete with a palatial mansion, used to staying in actual luxury hotels, and living it up in a major metropolis–with zero interest in Walt Disney World–you might feel very differently. So it’s all a matter of perspective.
All I know is that apparently there will be limited space for sports media, but with the stringent requirements that they stay on-site at Walt Disney World for 3+ months. That’s without access to all of those swanky amenities, and media will probably get stuck at one of the All Stars, but nevertheless: sign me up! I will gladly make the necessary pivot to being an all-NBA, all the time resource. Disneybasketballblog.com has a certain ring to it. 😉
What do you think of the NBA using Walt Disney World as a bubble site? Thoughts on the resort choices? What about the amenities? Are you jealous?!? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!