NBA bubble life is not 'bad at all' for Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

His single room at the five-star Gran Destino Tower (standard room rate $262 per night) on the Disney World campus runs a little on the smallish side for NBA standards.

Food options are limited, as are opportunities to get outside and get away for something non-basketball related while weathering the relentless heat and humidity of a Central Florida afternoon.

All that aside, NBA life in relative isolation has been all right for former Notre Dame standout Pat Connaughton, now in his second season as a reserve guard with the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was two weeks ago Saturday when a private plane delivered Connaughton to Florida, where he entered the NBA’s restart “bubble.”

Connaughton remained back in Wisconsin after testing positive for coronavirus four days before the team departed. He spent his first few days in Orlando quarantined before rejoining his teammates for workouts and practices and games and meals and everything else they’ll do together until the playoffs end in October.

“Bubble life hasn’t been bad at all,” Connaughton said last week on his way back to his hotel room after a team meal. “It’s different for everybody depending on their personal lives, but I don’t have a girlfriend or a wife or kids. Talking with the guys that do, it’s a little harder for them, a little less attractive.”

Everything Connaughton needs to do — work out, practice, play, eat, relax — is done inside the Disney bubble. If he wants to get away for a few hours, there’s golf on one of the three courses, or fishing on a private lake that the NBA stocked just for the players. He could tour the theme park and hit up some rides.

Doing it in the heat of another oppressive afternoon isn’t appealing for someone who aspires to be in peak shape when it’s time to play.

“You don’t want to be playing 36 holes on the day before a game,” Connaughton said. “If there were one or two more things to do or a restaurant that we could go to as opposed to ordering all our food in, that would be cool.”

Life is good while the 27-year-old Connaughton helps the Bucks chase the organization’s first championship since 1971. Milwaukee is favored to win the Eastern Conference. The finals will go final in the middle of October. Until then, bubble life is the only life he’ll know.

“They’ve got everything we need here locked down,” he said. “We’re doing what we’ve got to do to play.”

It’s working. On Wednesday, the league announced that of the 329 players tested for coronavirus since July 29, none returned positive.

That’s something Connaughton didn’t do back in Milwaukee. In the months after the pandemic shuttered sports, Connaughton felt he did everything right to not catch the ‘rona. He stayed in his downtown apartment. He worked out alone, to the point where he felt he was in the best shape of his five-year pro career. He wore a mask. He socially distanced.

Connaughton and teammate Eric Bledsoe still contracted the virus.

“When I first found out that I had it, you’re a little bit psyched out,’” Connaughton said. “Like, do I feel anything different? Do I feel sick? You get a little mental over it.”

Connaughton’s virus experience was relatively minor. He felt like he had a head cold for a few days. He ran a mild fever. Experienced muscle aches. He felt fine days later, but still kept testing positive.

“I’m sitting there for 16, 17, 18 days thinking, how long will it take to get back into shape from a cardio standpoint?” Connaughton said. “You want to get down there as quick as you can.”

Connaughton skipped the Bucks’ three scrimmages and their first two restart regular season games. On Tuesday, in his first game since March 9, he scored eight points with five rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes in a loss to Brooklyn. In Thursday’s win over Miami, he scored 11 points with one rebound in 21 minutes. Milwaukee played Saturday night against Dallas.

These are big games, and a big stretch for Connaughton, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Not only is he playing for his present, but his future as well. He hopes to call Orlando home until October. The rest of the world can wait. He’ll take the bubble.

“I’m not sure many people would desire that, but then you look at it from a basketball standpoint,” he said. “The longer you’re here, the better you’re doing.”

For now, and for later.

Former Notre Dame guard Pat Conanughton played in an NBA game Tuesday for the first time since March 9.