What's It Like to Live in the Bubble? We Ask Cal Grad and Boston Writer Gary Washburn

Jeff Faraudo

During my time with the Oakland Tribune, I was lucky enough to cover four Summer Olympics: Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing. Cool assignments, but each of them a month-long marathon. A long stretch away from family, and when I got home I'd sleep for a couple days.

Gary Washburn and his colleagues who cover the NBA are taking that experience and multiplying it by three.

Washburn, 50, is an NBA writer for the Boston Globe. He's quarantined in the NBA bubble at Orlando, Florida, to cover the Boston Celtics, who begin the playoffs on Monday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

A 1991 Cal grad, Washburn already has been in the bubble on the campus at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World for five weeks, covering the team's final eight regular-season games. He'll be there through mid-October, when the playoffs end, bringing his total quarantine sentence for about three months.

Astronauts have spent less time in outer space.

In the video above, you'll hear Washburn make it clear he isn't complaining. Far from it. He is excited to be part of an unprecedented reporter experience in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. He's part of NBA history no one hopes will be have to be repeated in the future.

Washburn is a Tier 1 resident of the bubble, meaning he goes through daily testing protocols and must follow strict security guidelines. There is no coming and going from the bubble. No visitors from the outside. He said goodbye to his girlfriend in early July and won't see her until the Boston leaves have turned color.

He has near-courtside seas for the games and in-person access to athletes and coaches for interviews, while Tier 2 occupants sit farther from the court at games and must conduct interviews through Zoom.

Reporters with full access wear devices that begin to beep if they are closer than six feet to anyone else for more than a few seconds. 

Mealtimes are fixed and there are limited menu options. Outside food delivery is costly, geared more for players who enjoy a bigger budget.

But the NBA has designed a smart and workable system that allows reporters to do their jobs in a manner as close as possible to how they've always done it. 

Washburn says he feel entirely protected from the threat of COVID-19 and has adapted well to his "new normal." 

The monotony should recede a bit, he hopes, when the playoffs get started and the games take on added importance.

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