As Dewan Hernandez returned to the Raptors 905 locker room last Wednesday after the team’s season-opening victory, the 24-year-old forward found Patrick Mutombo, the 905’s head coach, and recalled a memory from the not-so-distant past.
“Who did we shower with water here?” Hernandez asked Mutombo, who is in his first year as the team’s head coach after four years on Toronto’s NBA staff.
It was a question that only the two of them were equipped to answer. Each had been with the Raptors last August when the team doused assistant coach Adrian Griffin in the same HP Field House locker room following a win over the 76ers.
“Definitely crazy being back,” Hernandez says.
Hernandez and Mutombo are part of an exclusive company of players and coaches who have taken part in both the NBA and G League Disney World bubbles. (Though technically the current G League experience is not a “bubble” in the truest sense, as players can enter and exist if they are called up or sent down.) Up to this point just 10 players have been in both while Mutombo is believed to be one of only two coaches who have experienced Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in August and February.
“It’s just funny how everything comes full circle,” says forward Jaylen Hoard, who spent the summer with the Trail Blazers and is now with the Oklahoma City Blue.
Bubble familiarity comes with some perks. After spending the NBA restart with the Suns, Fort Wayne Mad Ants guard Jalen Lecque made sure to travel down to Florida with an extra monitor.
Hoard packed some additional room lights. “Try to make it as comfortable as possible,” he says.
This winter, Greensboro Swarm forward Admiral Schofield brought his PlayStation 4 to Disney, but Schofield, who spent last year with the Wizards, notes that over the summer he arrived with the aforementioned video game console and an Xbox. As a Disney vet he also provided his new teammates with thoughts on what they should bring and relayed insight on what life would be like.
Schofield says that the two experiences are “pretty similar,” though, the physical footprint of the two experiences marks one major difference. Every G League player is staying at the Coronado Springs Casitas resort compared to the three hotels used this summer. The available space is, in turn, diminished.
Players still have access to fishing, pickleball and cornhole, but there is no golf and personal services are more limited. As a result, watching Netflix—or Hulu, in Schofield’s case—and reading remain popular activities, despite the warnings from some.
“Don’t get stuck in the room,” Mutombo has often reminded his players after practice.
Over the summer the then Raptors assistant went on multiple daily walks around the Disney property, the first of which would be at 4:50 a.m. when no one else was around. He also spent a ton of time painting in his hotel room, completing at least 25 works. Like he did in July, Mutombo traveled to the G League single-site season with a portable studio consisting of canvases, boards, brushes and an easel, plus acrylic, oil and watercolor paints. However, as of the team’s first game, the first-year G League head coach was still finding his daily rhythm and had yet to paint. He also hadn’t taken his daily morning walks.
“I still have to find a better balance,” he admits.
Despite being in his first year as a G League head coach, Mutombo says that “the fact that I had been in the bubble gave me a little bit more peace and comfort,” and helped him better understand both the challenges and quirks of the bubble environment. The coach says it also allowed him to be even more empathetic to his players who might have been leaving their friends and family for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
Prior to departing for Disney, Lecque and others from the Mad Ants, the Pacers’ G League affiliate, took part in a video call with sports psychologist Dr. Adam Shunk to discuss mental health challenges and available resources. And around the league single-site residents answer a daily symptom–check survey in a MyHealth app, in which one question asks if you want a mental health professional to contact you for any reason.
“It wasn’t easy,” Schofield says of mental fatigue he had over the summer.
“It can get a little long just being to yourself,” Hoard adds. “The bubble can be pretty particular. But if you’re doing well off the court mental-wise and with your individual well-being, then your on the court [well-being] is going to take care of itself.”
Throughout mid-July and into early August, Hoard was a frequent customers of Seana’s Caribbean Soul Food, one of just a handful of local Black- and Latinx-owned restaurants league-approved for delivery into the bubble. He enjoyed their shrimp, jerk salmon and sweet plantains, which reminded him of his Caribbean grandmother’s cooking.
Seana’s, though, is not available to G League players, and the food options are slightly different. Teams still have meal rooms in which they are provided with food and snacks throughout the day. They also have access to Rix Sports Bar & Grill. (Hernandez recommended their wings to his 905 teammates prior to G League season.) And services like DoorDash and UberEats are new to the latest bubble.
While the regular season began last week the abridged campaign is currently set to conclude March 6, with the playoffs wrapping up on March 11. The finite ending helps provide players with some mental comfort and also heightens the importance of each game.
“Guys in here are just hungry,” Lecque says. “And I feel like it’s a great place to focus and really hoop.”
Schofield says he’s hoping that his role as one of Greensboro’s key players leads to an NBA call-up. Down the road, though, he wouldn’t rule out another return trip to Disney, albeit as solely a customer.
“I’m not sick of it yet,” he says of the entertainment complex.
Hoard, however, has differing thoughts on a return trip to Disney.
“After this bubble,” he says. “I feel like I’ll need a break.”