May 26, 2020 - Sports

How Disney World could host the NBA

Illustration of a basketball with Mickey Mouse ears.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After weeks of speculation, the NBA announced Saturday that it is in early discussions to resume its season in late July at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

What they're saying: The NBA's most well-sourced reporter, Adrian Wojnarowski, says "everything is pointing toward" this happening, and that teams could start recalling players as soon as next week for a two-week quarantine period and formal training camp before heading to Florida.

Why it matters: Even if this doesn't come to fruition, an examination of how it could happen illuminates the challenges involved in hosting a quarantine tournament — something other leagues have considered (MLB, MLS) or already plan to do themselves (NWSL, PLL).

The state of play: The NBA is considering a number of variations, according to Wojnarowski, "everywhere from bringing all 30 teams back to just bringing the playoffs teams back to something in between."

  • Ideally, the NBA wants teams to play at least 70 regular-season games to fulfill contracts with regional sports networks, and every team is close to that number. The Hawks (20-47) would need to play three games, while the Lakers (49-14) would need to play seven.

Past experience: The Vegas Summer League has become a full-blown basketball convention in recent years, complete with all 30 NBA teams and two packed arenas hosting 10 games a day. So the NBA has experience with this type of event.

Illustration of Disney World
Screenshot: Magic Guides

The property: Disney World is 39 square miles, which is almost twice as big as Manhattan and a little smaller than San Francisco. So we're basically dealing with a city here — but instead of a mayor and residents, there's a CEO and employees, many of whom have been furloughed.

The living area: Coronado Springs (small circle above) is Disney World's prime convention resort. According to Yahoo Sports' Keith Smith, who worked at Disney World for nearly 20 years and first broached the "Disney World bubble" idea over a month ago, it would make the most sense to house everyone there.

  • In addition to three village areas, a health club, and a self-contained marina, Coronado Springs also has roughly 200,000 square feet of convention space that would be ideal for team meeting space, film rooms and media outposts.
  • Worth noting: I tried to book a stay at all of the Disney World resorts from July 1 to July 31 (they don't allow further dates). One of the only ones "unavailable" for those dates? Coronado Springs.

The basketball area: The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex (big circle above) is fairly isolated from the rest of the park and has a hospital just down the road, which is crucial. The complex has three primary indoor facilities that would presumably be used for this event, two for games and one for practice.

  • HP Field House: This building hosts the AdvoCare Invitational — an annual NCAA basketball tournament — and has multiple courts and state-of-the-art broadcasting capabilities.
  • The Arena: Built to host cheer and dance competitions, it can be configured to hold three basketball courts, according to Smith.
  • Visa Athletic Center: Comparable to an airplane hangar, it can be configured into basically whatever you want (massive AAU tournaments are often hosted here, as well as gymnastics).

The bottom line: More than two months into the shutdown, there is "real momentum behind the comeback of American sports," write the WSJ — and one of the foremost plans involves Mickey Mouse and Space Mountain. Crazy times.

Go deeper: NBA in early talks to restart season in July

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