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Q&A: Patrick Patterson on What It’s Like Inside the NBA’s Bubble

The Clippers forward shared how he’s pursuing a title in unprecedented circumstances—and why he needs 200 articles of clothing to do it

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

By the time you read this, the Clippers’ Patrick Patterson will have completed the 36 hours of isolated quarantine that every NBA player has to undergo once they arrive at the Orlando campus. As teams descend on Disney World this week, any guesses about what the bubble will look like are now being replaced by actual experiences. And the reality of the situation appears to be settling in.

Patterson, who is playing for a title favorite, is operating as if the Gran Destino will be his residency for the next three months. Because of this, he has packed extensively, prepared different hobbies and activities to keep himself occupied, and tried to take on a positive mind-set. I talked with Patterson to get a glimpse of life inside the bubble, including what the testing is like, what he thinks of the food so far, and why he brought roughly 200 articles of clothing in four suitcases.

Did you have any hesitation about going? What was the thought process behind deciding to go?

For myself, yeah, a little bit of hesitation, just due to a lot of uncertainty, family situations, wanting to be at home with my wife, and then on top of that, just with everything that’s been going on in the world. So do I feel safer in the bubble in that environment, or do I feel safer at home in the environment I can control? Do I trust the NBA to truly put us in the best situation and look out for our best interests? There was a little back-and-forth in the beginning, but, ultimately, having a chance to win a championship and being around my teammates again outweighed the no and was more of a factor toward the yes.

So when you decide, “OK, I’m going,” how do you prepare for this unknown situation and to potentially be in there for three months?

Just being able to adjust on the fly. The [NBA has] been pretty open with us about everything that’s going to be here, everything that’s going to be provided for us, the schedule, the layout, schematics. They’ve been asking us questions. They’ve been taking our feedback, as far as things that we need and things that we want. I feel like each team is different. Each team has players that like to do certain things whenever they’re not playing basketball in their free time, in their spare time. So [they’re] just making sure that they can accommodate each and every individual’s need as a mass, as a whole.

For you, and for the Clippers in general, what are those things that you guys like doing down there?

For me, I’m a big movie buff. So I think once we’re out of this quarantine situation, being able to go to the movie theater, watch a movie that they provide for us, an early release of a film that comes out in the future. Video games. So having the player-only lounge, and having games, ping-pong tables, all types of stuff set up, foosball and whatever else it may be. Then just peacefulness, quiet. It’s a big resort. So there’s a lot of space. Just being able to go somewhere quiet and just relax, read, just get my mind off of things.

For us, we have guys that love to fish. I think it’s well known Paul George is a huge fisherman. Same thing with [Montrezl Harrell]. So they love to be out on the water, having access to boats. I think they have a couple of lakes here. Some guys enjoy playing spades, booray, card games, or whatever it may be. So being sure and having tables to provide for that. Some guys love old-school video games, arcade style, so they have an arcade here. Outdoor things, too—trails, bike trails, and courses to be able to go biking on.

Are there any movies that you’re particularly excited about?

Let’s see. I would love it if they have the new Black Widow, if they have Wonder Woman, I would want to see that. Disney’s Mulan, and The New Mutants, all that stuff. A Quiet Place Part II, Monster Hunter. If we can get a bunch of those, that’d be amazing. Tenet, all those type of movies. If we have a say so or a choice, that’s even better. I’m going to try to get as many as possible for myself. But those movies are definitely ones that I’ve had my eye on.

I’m going to be jealous if you guys get to watch Tenet in there before we all do out here. Is there going to be a theater?

Yeah, there is a theater. Each hotel has something different, so I’m not sure if it’s at ours or if it’s at another one. There will be a certain point, I think once exhibition games start, that they will allow us to bounce around and go to different hotels.

How did you go about packing for potentially being there for three months? What did you bring? How were you able to fit everything?

I tried to pack for, I would say, all the way to the championship. We play what, eight games? Regular season, couple exhibition games, the playoff games. So just try to calculate in my mind how many games that would be, have an outfit for each and every one of those situations. Then again, have a backup outfit as well. So times that by two. Ultimately, just laid out a bunch of outfits on the bed, matching shorts, sweaters, T-shirts, sweatpants, shoes, socks, each and every outfit. Thankfully, my wife is a tremendous packer. She reminds me of Tetris. She’s able to put pieces to a puzzle in perfectly so that it fits and you can have the maximum amount of room.

So I laid every outfit out possible that I could think of that’s in my closet, and she literally just threw it in about three to four suitcases. That was it. So I’m just lugging about four suitcases, a book bag, and a duffel bag of personal items and then I loaded that into the truck.

So you have an outfit for every game that’s different and then a backup outfit?

Correct. Yeah. So a backup outfit and then an outfit for every game and then some casual wear to wear around the campus.

But when you’re talking about the outfits, are there things that you’re going to use for multiple outfits that maybe are different? Maybe the shorts or the pants are the same that you used in a previous outfit, or is every single outfit different?

Every single outfit is different.

There’s no showers in the locker room for after the game, so I’m not trying to, of course, put back on the nice set of clothes that I wore to the game and be able to put on some comfortable shorts or sweatpants and a T-shirt. A lot of guys, of course, will be sweaty and stink, needless to say, so not many guys will want to put on the nice slacks and collared shirt when the game is over that they initially wore to the game.

Wait, so how many articles of clothing do you estimate that you brought down there?

That’s a great question. So counting shirts, we’ll say tops, bottoms, shorts, pants, sweats, etcetera, socks, underwear—man, I’ll say at least over 100, 100 to 200, somewhere in that range.

Wow. You mentioned you have a book bag, too, and I’m curious what other stuff you brought to keep yourself occupied, especially right now, when you are in this isolated mode.

A notebook to write, books to read. They have a book in the room. A book goes on my list I haven’t read yet, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. So an opportunity to read that. My gaming laptop and my controller and headphones, my Nintendo Switch, a couple graphic novels, comic books to read as well. So that’s pretty much it. Play a couple games for a few hours, read a couple books, write some notes into my journal, and FaceTime the wife back home on the iPad. That will pretty much be a daily routine.

Do you worry about going stir crazy?

Thankfully, [the isolated quarantine] is basically only for today. So, to me, time moves faster when you’re doing nothing compared to when you’re doing something. So I feel like this day will fly by in the blink of an eye. Today, literally just hanging out in the room, playing games, like I said, the routine. Thankfully, [the isolated quarantine] only lasts for 36 hours. So I’m certain we should be done by noon tomorrow, and then we’ll be able to, obviously, leave the room and take advantage of the amenities and everything that the NBA has provided for us here at this hotel and be able to go out and about, stretch our legs, and just, needless to say, get out of the room.

Describe the process of arriving in Orlando and going into the bubble.

Once we arrived at the hotel, they took us straight to the ballroom, where there was a quick orientation about the rules, the grounds, the staff that’ll be on site, each and every hotel that’s in the bubble, and which amenities and which things we can do at each hotel, showing us where the practice and the courts and everything else is, giving us a map, giving us everything that we need to pretty much stay here at the hotel, taking our quick [coronavirus] test, and then being given our room keys.

Then next thing you know, your bags and your food come, and then have a bunch of stuff already set up in the room, anything from water to toiletries, toothbrush, lotion, body wash, mouthwash, little knickknacks for your phone, your iPad, books to read, a thermometer, snacks, etcetera, etcetera. So that was basically the first day.

Are they doing the nasal test or is it the mouth swab?

It’s the easier nasal one. So they switched over to, not necessarily going up in your brain, it’s more so just the beginning of your nostril. They switched over to that.

A few pictures of the food got out on Twitter and people were talking about them. What’s the food been like? Is it what you expected?

It’s kind of what I expected. I feel like we’re in these rooms right now, and they give you the opportunity to, of course, order room service. But, to me, it’s what’s to be expected for these first 36 hours. I can’t honestly see us having gourmet, five-star meals as we’re quarantined in the room. Last night, the first meal wasn’t that bad, barbecue chicken, some halibut, asparagus, rosemary roasted potatoes, a salad, some type of mayonnaise mac and cheese. I don’t know what that was. Some fruit and some bread. Wasn’t that bad. It was fine. There’s worse things to eat in this world. This morning, some fruit, some eggs, some oatmeal, an apple, some yogurt, and a couple potatoes.

So it’s not bad. It’s the way that it’s presented, I feel, which is bad. People see it in these small containers, these plastic boxes. Someone said Fyre Festival 2.0. That’s kind of what it looks like, but if they literally threw it on a plate, warmed it up, threw it on a tray, had someone wheel it in on a cart, it would look 10 times better. So I just think the way that they have it in the boxes and everything makes it look like, “What is this? What are we eating?”

So do they just drop it off at the door, and you just open the door and grab it? Is that how it works?

Yeah, there’s about three drop-offs, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They basically just give you a time frame when the meal will be dropped off, like a two-and-a-half-hour time frame, and they just knock on the door, you give them a second to drop it off and leave, and then you just grab it. Once you’re finished, you just place it back outside on the tray.

How do you think players might deal with the mental aspect of being in this kind of situation?

Yeah. There’s opportunities to talk. There’s people here, physicians, staff members, doctors we can open up and have conversations with if we need to. We’re a big family. As an organization, I think mental health has definitely taken a huge step in these past three years from players coming out, speaking out, sharing their stories, trying to help the movement progress forward, and there’s team doctors. There’s more information out there.

Then family. I think the family’s one of the toughest situations, just because we’ve been with them for what, the past three months? Three and a half months, four months, something like that every single day. Connecting with family that’s farther away, myself having Zoom sessions twice a week, holding family game nights and trivia nights and being able to see them on that screen and talk to them all the time. Those guys who are lucky enough to have their family physically with them for these previous months and then now having to leave that for X amount of time, and who knows if they’ll actually be able to come out here?

Everyone’s situation is different, obviously, but there’s a lot of variables, a lot of factors. But I think the opportunity to have people to talk to, doctors, physicians that are here, hotlines to call, teammates and family members, brothers within the organization that you can open it up and share it with, and then, of course, being able to pick up that phone and just talk and see your family back home will help as well. But I think more guys, when they’re feeling a certain type of way, they’re not hesitant to not speak up and not talk. They’re starting to open up more.

Do you think the NBA can pull this off?

I think it’s possible. It’s very difficult to see how we can contract the virus if you have literally every individual here, organization-wise, COVID-free. Then the only variable, of course, are the people who work here, who can come in and out, but I assume they get tested, and I assume that they wouldn’t jeopardize their job and our jobs and our health. They would go to and from work, go home, come back, repeat, wouldn’t put themselves in situations to contract the virus and then give it to us.

So that’s the only variable that can cause this to go downhill. Players and the staff can’t leave. So it’s not like we can get the virus. It’s not like we can come in contact with it. So it’s the people who can go to and from these hotels, to and from the campus. So I honestly think it can work. I honestly think it can play out. I honestly think we can get all the way into the Finals without someone getting it. So knock on wood that this works out.