NBA players face mental health challenges in Disney bubble

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The adjustments that NBA players will make to the Orlando bubble for the season restart on July 30 will be enormous.

One change players need to adapt to is the lack of a crowd and its wall of noise, according to a prominent sports psychologist.

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But acclimatizing to fanless games may not be as great as the isolation they will face amid restrictions imposed within the boundaries of Disney World.

Dr. Stephen González, a member of the executive board of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology, told The Post that the experience can feel like "house arrest," pointing to the 113-page bubble rulebook. Violators are subject to banishment.

"They are unknown waters," González told The Post. "At the Olympics, you must have all your movements tracked with security details and that hinders your freedom. It is a small amount of what will happen to basketball. They are restricted to where they can eat. They are giving a lot of freedom to do this. "

The 22 teams, including the Nets but not the Knicks, report to Orlando from July 7 to 8 for official training camp.

"There will be an initial excitement and motivation to follow the rules," said Gonzalez, Assistant Athletic Director for Leadership and Mental Performance at Dartmouth. "Eventually, it's like a New Year's resolution. He diets, and after a week or two, he gets back to habit. Our athletes will go back to what they like things to be. I think it's going to be a lot of struggle and stress." .

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Players' physical well-being, staying COVID-19 free and getting back in shape after a nearly four-month hiatus, might be nothing compared to their mental health.

"We are looking at COVID from a physical point of view, but there is a mental aspect: anxiety and fear," said González. "There is interesting data on how COVID affects lung capacity in the long term, even for those at an earlier age. For athletes, it is a damning ramification. But the anxiety, worry, and isolation of human beings? We are social creatures. It is challenging.

"It is causing a lot of depression. That is the hidden side effect of COVID. We are not talking enough about how that could affect these guys," Gonzalez added.

Recreational rooms will be provided, but with lots of guidelines. For example, players cannot share headsets when playing video games and do not duplicate themselves on ping pong. There is a document that specifies the proper recipe for disinfecting basketballs used in practice.

González predicts that some players may retire halfway.

"It's a pretty big experiment in willpower and patience," said González. "I can't train properly for four months, so I'm stuck in a hotel and there's nothing I can do. They'll need something to deal with or it could be a miserable experience."

Players will undergo daily COVID-19 exams. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday that "the level of concern has increased" due to the increase in the coronavirus in Florida. "We cannot escape the virus," said Silver.

González indicated that he would flee the restart.

"The news has not been excellent recently," said González. “A lot of this depends on how much money we are going to lose. We really need to look at whether the risk is worth the reward. "

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The risks may be too great, said the Dartmouth psychologist. Players may not be aware of their pre-existing conditions.

"I respect them for wanting to try it," Gonzalez said. "The fans are hungry for that. If you are the commissioner, you hate to see an athlete's career path be adversely affected by side effects or death. We know that the youngest and healthiest population is smaller, but it still does not mean that it cannot happen.

"If someone receives critical care with a ventilator due to underlying pre-existing conditions, is it okay as a commissioner knowing the life-threatening consequences? I don't know if I'm comfortable with that if I'm the commissioner of a major sports league. "

On the court, González believes that players will get used to the atmosphere without fans, but it could take several games to find their gaming mojo.

According to an industry source, the music will stream to the gym for some games, just like in a pre-coronavirus arena, making it less silent.

"They are used to large crowds," said González. "This could feel more like organized scrimmage or competitive practice. It will be interesting to see how they handle what they are not used to. The crowd plays with it. You shoot and feel an adrenaline rush from the noise and applause of the crowd. Athletes must now focus on the task at hand. "

González works with Dartmouth athletes, and some professional competitors, to deal with the volume of the arena. Now it is just the opposite: silence.

Different players react differently. González feels that LeBron James feeds on fans more than, he says, the more placid Kawhi Leonard. James said in March that he preferred not to play if he doesn't have fans, although his tone has since changed.

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"LeBron appreciates the relationship he has with the fans," said González. “Not having the other end of the relationship present will be really difficult for him. However, Tim Duncan, you can't tell if Tim is having a good day or a bad day. It's just stoic. There are a couple of players like that now in how they present their emotions like Kawhi. "

Many teams have added sports psychologists, and specialists will be helpful.

"If I was working with any NBA player, one of the things we would talk about is what effect the crowd has on you in a positive or negative way," added Gonzalez. And without the crowd there, how are we going to plan to have those same emotions, the same level of adrenaline? Perhaps using visualization and getting the most simulated reps, shooting in an empty gym, feeling that calm and stillness and hugging him. It is a factor. They will have to find a way to adapt and adapt. "

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