How the NBA Bubble Became a Content Hub for Players

Media access has been limited throughout both the NBA's and WNBA’s campus environments. But player-created content has seemingly filled a void left by traditional outlets.
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As Lakers center JaVale McGee boards his team’s private coach bus ahead of a recent intra-squad scrimmage, he makes sure to give an inviting welcome to those already seated. “You’re my dog, Randy,” he says to Randy Mims, the team’s executive administrator for player programs and logistics. He next greets forwards Kyle Kuzma and Jared Dudley and guard Danny Green.

Three rows behind Green, seated just in front of the bus’ rear bathroom, sits 16-time All-Star LeBron James. “Bronny, Bron. What’s cracking, baby?” McGee asks the Lakers star.

McGee films the scene on a professional-grade Sony camera. It is just a brief sequence in one of McGee’s recent video blogs—but that video alone has amassed more than two million views on the veteran center’s YouTube page.

As of Tuesday evening, McGee had posted seven vlogs from the NBA bubble. Since his first bubble video went live two weeks ago, his YouTube channel’s subscriber count has grown from just under 40,000 to more than 450,000. Each project has more than one million views. With each video, he provides an authentic, and unparalleled, look into the league’s most popular team.

“The NBA bubble is such an exclusive place,” says Emmy Award–winning freelance video producer Devin Dismang, who is working as an executive producer and editor on McGee’s project. “And people want to be in the building somehow.”

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McGee is not alone in providing the world a virtual entrance ticket into life in the NBA’s bubble. Nuggets guard Troy Daniels, who is another of Dismang’s clients, has started vlogging. So too has Sixers rookie Matisse Thybulle, who is filming, editing and producing his own vlogs on a recently-started YouTube channel. Players like Pelicans guard JJ Redick are podcasting from the bubble. Most are also using Instagram in abundance to give the world daily peaks into NBA life in Orlando and WNBA life in Brandenton, Fla., the site of the league’s closed environment.

“Now, more than ever, people are looking to these platforms more to get more insight,” Dismang says. “It’s just right now, it’s the athlete’s time.”

The gold mine of player-created content has seemingly filled a void left by traditional outlets. Media access has been limited throughout both the NBA and WNBA’s campus environments. While there are more than a dozen reporters at the NBA’s bubble, many of the areas most frequently displayed across social media by players are off-limits to the press. In the WNBA’s bubble, ESPN’s Holly Rowe is the only credentialed reporter on site, according to The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch.

In its stead, vlogs showing the lives of McGee, Daniels and Thybulle have provided information and insights that otherwise wouldn’t be shown. Dismang, for example, recalls a recent Nuggets exhibition in which the game’s broadcasters noted that Daniels had played golf with veteran forward Paul Millsap on his off-time. (Golf appears to be a popular activity in the NBA bubble and has been displayed through multiple vlogs and on team social channels as well.)

With limitations on how much gym time each team gets, players throughout both bubbles have been forced to figure out how to spend their waking hours. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo decorated a door for his brother Thanasis’s birthday. Aces star A’ja Wilson impersonated her coach, Bill Laimbeer.

Another of Dismang’s clients, Lakers guard Quinn Cook, recently sent the NBA 2K world into a frenzy when Cook streamed a 2K game that saw him play alongside James and Anthony Davis. Fishing has been another frequent activity in the NBA’s bubble.

“To Miami!” Sixers guard Kyle O’Quinn exclaims while driving a boat that also seats forward Tobias Harris and Thybulle. The Sixers rookie films the occasion and shares in it the third installment of his vlog.

“What I’ve realized with this bubble is that I’ve never had this much down time,” Redick said on a recent podcast episode.

But while player YouTube pages have grown in popularity in recent weeks, the Twitter accounts @NBABubbleLife and @WNBABubbleLife have aggregated the best in player content online and become must-follow accounts for those in the basketball community.

“They have essentially packaged an inside look into the bubble and taken the work out of searching for what’s going on,” Dismang says.

Nick DePaula, who writes about the sneaker industry for ESPN; Wells Phillips, who is in marketing in Los Angeles; Travonne Edwards, a podcast host for The Athletic; and Drew Ruiz, a staffer for the Drew League, who has also written for Slam, run the accounts.

DePaula first pitched the idea in a group chat with his aforementioned friends. “Everyone would love to go to 1 spot to see everything going on,” he wrote in an initial text message. Within hours of sharing its first wave of player videos, the “NBA Bubble Life” account had already gained thousands of followers.

“That whole [first] weekend was crazy,” Ruiz says. “Just the response to it. The response to it was crazy.”

As the accounts accumulated a loyal and ever-expanding following, the four friends initially remained anonymous. Now out publicly, Ruiz says that as they crafted their often clever and playful captions, they did so with an intention to keep their identities unknown. Edwards says that the accounts follow every active player in each league, noting that it’s not just elite players that have become stars online.

“The role players are growing their brands and showing their personalities too,” he explains.

On July 11, Ruiz asked Redick how many retweets it would take for the Pelicans guard to shotgun a Bud Light. The 36-year-old responded quickly, saying that if he got 10,000 retweets, he would undertake the challenge.

The next afternoon, Redick held true to his word and shared a video of him shot-gunning a beer. He tagged the popular Twitter account in the process.

Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson indulged his fans by chugging a beer, in a video that was of course shared by the account. So too did Heat forward Meyers Leonard, who has tagged @NBABubbleLife in many of his subsequent social media posts.

“We’ve become that one-stop shop,” Ruiz says. “It’s like if NBA Bubble Life approves it, then I’m on to something. It’s kinda gotten out of hand.”

As of Tuesday evening, the quartet’s NBA-focused Twitter account has more than 125,000 followers. But like how players across both professional basketball leagues have used their to voice social justice messages, the foursome is planning on using their popularity for another purpose. They plan on creating a charity shirt and donating its proceeds to the Black Nurses Association in Central Florida.

McGee had never tried vlogging before arriving at the NBA bubble. He and Dismang were both pleasantly stunned by the reaction to their first video. “We were like, ‘Oh God, let’s keep doing these,” Dismang says, adding that he woke up to multiple text messages littered with exclamation points.

Daniels had watched some of McGee’s initial vlogs and praised them in the comments. He had previously worked with Dismang in a smaller capacity, and reached out to the experienced producer to undertake a similar project.

The Nuggets guard brought at least three professional-grade cameras with him to the bubble. Among other details, his vlogs illustrate his budding interest in still photography. In his most recent project, Daniels films himself conducting a birthday photoshoot he did for one of McGee’s teammates, Kyle Kuzma.

In addition to taking part in photoshoots, Kuzma spent some time going down a waterslide on Disney’s campus. McGee even accompanied the Utah product on the waterslide and documented the event on Instagram Live.

“The candid moments are the ones that are my favorite,” Dismang says, “because they show these guys are human.”

Fans have learned have seen player reactions to different meals and cornhole competitions. Thanks to player vlogs, they also now know exactly where the Lakers’ biggest star sits on the bus to practice.