SALT LAKE CITY — It was the same plane Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik had flown on dozens if not hundreds of times; he was surrounded by familiar faces and was even in his familiar seat. And, yet, it all felt strange.
“The weirdest thing was getting on a plane again after four months,” Zanik said.
But far from the only weird thing.
The Jazz landed in Orlando on Tuesday evening where they boarded a couple of Disney Cruise charter buses (yes, some players jokingly asked where their Mickey Mouse ears were) and briskly they were driven to their new home: ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Once there, they received a quick presentation from league executives, were tested for coronavirus, and sent to their rooms for quarantine. Players and team personnel will remain in their rooms until they record two negative tests. The Jazz haven't had a positive test of coronavirus since Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive in March.
“If you want any reviews about the hotels or restaurants or what Disney looks like, I have no idea,” Zanik said. “I've seen the lobby for about 15 seconds and then the inside of the rooms. The rooms are nice.”
And so it begins, the NBA’s great bubble experiment.
If all goes to plan, the Jazz will all get back their second negative test by Thursday morning allowing them to practice as a team for the first time since the league shut down in March. Utah is scheduled for a three-hour practice Thursday afternoon — a return to a bit of normalcy albeit in a very abnormal situation.
The Jazz had an active break, to put things lightly. They were the Patient Zero of the NBA, had their stars at odds, and the social unrest across the country showed some divide between players and a portion of the fan base.
“There was a lot of stuff that was about the Jazz when there wasn't much basketball to write about,” Zanik said bluntly.
Throw in all the fact that Bojan Bogdanovic will miss the entire restart with an injury and it wouldn’t be the craziest thing for some fans to just be wishing the season would mercifully come to an end. As for the Jazz themselves, there's optimism about their chances at Disney.
“Our players are in terrific shape; they're very excited to compete,” Lindsey said. “I think we'll be formidable because we have a hungry group that does want to come together.”
The video call with the two Jazz executives and local and national media covered a wide array of topics as the two looked back on a strange break and forward to strange restart.
While the Utah Jazz organization prides itself on keeping things close to the vest, Zanik is hopeful that the team will benefit from having had the spotlight for so long during the four-month break. He believes it will allow the team to have more honest conversations with each other on numerous topics, be it social justice or the future of the league or even just basketball.
“The more we get to know each other and the better we play and take care of each other, those things will work themselves out,” Zanik said.
That's already starting to be seen. Lindsey said he’s been impressed by how open Rudy Gobert has been about his rift with Donovan Mitchell, especially in a recent ESPN story.
In that story, Gobert said he can be “annoying” when it comes to demanding the ball and that he didn’t blame Mitchell for how he responded after both tested positive for the virus. He admitted there had been issues between the two players in the past — and he wasn't blameless.
“I was very impressed at how open Rudy was; how he owned certain points,” Lindsey said. “There was a real vulnerability and some self-reflection. I've just seen some real maturity. You know there are some things that we all have to look at ourselves when we get critiqued and I'm not sure I'm good at that at 51 years old. But I was quite impressed that Rudy at 28 could reflect and share how he's felt about a number of things.”
That maturity is why there’s hope that there will be no lingering effects from a strange break when the Jazz begin to play basketball once more together. In fact, it's one of the reasons they think that even with everything that's gone on since that infamous night in Oklahoma City, that they can be, as Lindsey said, "formidable."