THEY WON'T BE RIDING SPACE MOUNTAIN

A fascinating peek at the Rockets' crazy life inside the NBA bubble

Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Earlier this week, the NBA released a 113-page volume of safety and health rules that will be in place when the league resumes play at Disney World next month.

The NBA's "new normal" rivals the warranty for a toaster I bought recently for legal mumbo jumbo. Seriously, 113 pages so you can play basketball in Orlando for a few months? The official United States Citizenship Test Study Guide is only 83 pages. And you can stay in Orlando forever if you pass.

The 22 NBA teams invited to finish the season will hole up in three hotels: upper tier teams get the Gran Destino Tower, teams that have already clinched a playoff spot are assigned the Grand Floridian, and teams barely squeaking their way into Disney must slum it (relatively speaking) at the Yacht Club. The Rockets lucked out, they'll be staying at the Grand Floridian. I've stayed at the Grand Floridian, it's a swanky toast to gentler Victorian times and southern charm. And its bread pudding with vanilla sauce is to die for.

The league will provide every sort of entertainment and diversion imaginable for 20 and 30-somethings. There will be movie night, ping-pong tables and a game room. In other words, summer camp in Texas Hill Country for rich kids.

Except summer camp didn't require life in quarantine for up to three months, and getting a javelin-sized Q-tip shoved up your nose every couple of days. Bubble Boy on Seinfeld had more freedom of movement than NBA players will be allowed at Disney. They won't even be permitted to sneak out for an ice cream sandwich shaped like Mickey Mouse. You're supposed to bite the ears first. The ears melt and drip first.

Players will have to change into their uniforms at their hotel and return to their hotel after the game to take a shower. Every player will get his own room, and the rules didn't mention this, but I'm guessing Disney blocks those, you know, special channels on hotel TVs.

There are rules for everything else, leaving nothing to chance to protect the players' health. They can play ping-pong, but no doubles. Social distancing, you know. Players will be tested for performance-enhancing drugs but not recreational drugs. The NBA rulebook for Disney reminds players that weed is illegal in Florida and a definite no-no on Disney property.

If players want to opt out of traveling to Orlando for any reason, including safety concerns or social issues, it's OK with the league and they won't be punished. However, they won't be paid for any games they miss. Example: if a player makes $10 million for the 2019-20 season, the player will lose about $108,000 per game. Four Rockets are in that lofty tax bracket: Russell Westbrook ($38.5 million), James Harden ($38.1 million), Eric Gordon ($12.4 million) and … ?

It's Robert Covington ($11.3). Bigger surprise, what's Westbrook doing making more money than Harden?

A team can designate a "protected player," who it feels may be at extra risk for contracting coronavirus. A protected player will not have to travel to Orlando, and will receive his full salary. Here's where the penny under the tongue trick comes into play. It's a classic for kids who want to, or need to, miss school for a day. A penny really does raise your temperature a few degrees when your mom sticks a thermometer in your mouth. Sadly, a penny will not help you if your thoroughly modern mom has one of those thermometers she waves across your forehead. Or a rectal thermometer.

If a player had a season-ending injury, he'll receive his full salary, those lucky limping devils.

Players will report to Disney on July 21 for lockdown. They will barely be allowed to leave their hotels, and forget about leaving the Disney campus. I can already see some mischievous players tying sheets together to escape out their rooms like a prison break, or a girl who's got a suitcase packed to elope. If you're caught sneaking out, you'll be put in time out: 10 days of total quarantine with regular "deep nasal" coronavirus testing. Law-abiding players will only undergo "shallow nasal" testing. Given a choice … just stay in your room.

Each team will have its own private dining room. Players will be allowed to order room service without being charged $5,000 for a $15 hamburger. After a few weeks, players can order delivery from certain Orlando-area restaurants. Players will wear special wristbands that serve as room keys and keep track of each time they're tested for the virus. Player lounges will have card tables. New decks will be provided every few games for health reasons, not to prevent P.J. Tucker from card counting.

Players and team personnel, plus mental health experts, media and executives, will have to wear face masks when they're not in their rooms or when they're eating. Players and coaches will not have to wear face masks if they sit in the front row on the bench during games. Sucks to be you, John Lucas and the other second-row assistant coaches. Mask up.

Much has been made of games being played without fans. However, the stands will not be empty. Players will be allowed to attend games of other teams. Also a limited number team and league executives and sponsors will be in the stands. Or pretty much the same crowd as a Timberwolves game. I joke, not because I love, but because I don't live in Minnesota.

Generally speaking, facilities at Disney will be 5-star and first-rate, with every creature comfort imaginable, including 24-hour concierge and on-site manicurists and hair-braiders. In other words, almost as luxurious as that sweet federal prison where actress Lori Loughlin will be sent for bribing her "athletically gifted" daughters into college.

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PROBABLE STARTERS

Thurs, Sept. 24 - HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33) vs. TEX: Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53)

Fri, Sept. 25 - HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78) vs. TEX: Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53)

Sat, Sept. 26 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87)

Sun, Sept. 27 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07)

STORYLINES

Season finale - The Astros will wrap up their regular season with their four game set in Arlington at the new Globe Life Field. Houston's magic number rests at two, as the Angels still have a puncher's chance. With Houston's miserable 8-20 road record, the postseason is anything but clinched.

Where's the offense? - The Astros offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few weeks, scoring more than three runs just twice in their last ten games. The bats really need to get going, especially if the team expects to do anything in the playoffs. George Springer has been the only reliable bat of late, with the performances of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and, most of all, Jose Altuve, leaving a lot to be desired.

Playoff seeding - If the playoffs started today, the Astros would face off with their division rivals in Oakland. There's an infinite number of possibilities over the next four games, but the Astros can see themselves finish anywhere from the fifth seed to out of the playoffs entirely. Any of Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Cleveland could be first round foes depending on how the cards fall.

PREDICTION

Lance Lynn has been one of the better pitchers in the game for a few years now, Kyle Cody is an intriguing young arm with good stuff, and Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson gave the Astros fits in Houston just last week. It isn't a recipe for success for Houston. The Astros win 1 of 4, which combined with the Angels and Mariners failing to take care of business, is enough to get Houston into the playoffs.

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