From “The Bubble” With Love

Let’s be honest…

Scientists and health professionals excluded, absolutely none of us saw COVID-19 coming. This virus has disrupted all of our lives, regardless of our race, religion, gender or orientation. It has touched everything. The pandemic feels unprecedented and historical, like living through a horror thriller. We’ve shut down the whole world and reconfigured the way we live. But in a weird way, for me personally, this experience has been a blessing in disguise.

With the season on hiatus, I went home to Indianapolis and spent three uninterrupted months with my two-year-old daughter, Ariana. This is a pivotal time in her life…she’s talking more, realizing her freedoms and learning new things every day. I miss a lot of that stuff when I’m always traveling for my job, which of course happens to be basketball. I missed Ari’s first words, her first step, her first time slurping up spaghetti–all because of work. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kinda enjoy quarantine, at least more than most people. That’s a privilege, for sure, but it’s complicated.

When it came time for the NBA season to resume, I was facing a tough decision. I’d be leaving for 3-4 months, living in a bubble, with no way to see my baby in person. But honestly, I always knew I was going in and playing my heart out. Everything I do is for Ariana, and that includes basketball. So here I am now: in a hotel room in Orlando, getting ready for a playoff push with the 76ers, and finding different ways to both stay in touch with my child & work on our foundation from 970 miles away.

Before we left Philly to come to Florida, I was committed to FaceTiming with Ari every day. It’s become the thing I look forward to most. Truth is, things can get really boring when you’re living in isolation and tested for COVID-19 every single day. Our time is mostly spent singing our five favorite songs from her preferred TV show, Doc McStuffins. Sometimes we put in a little work together, too. The other day it was push-ups, lunges and leg kicks. Gotta start em’ young! Other times, she’s more interested in her TV show than talking to me, one screen beating out the other for her attention. I guess that’s just preparing me for when she’s a teenager and I’m no longer cool, haha. If I have a busy gameday and can’t make our FaceTime call, I send her a video in the morning so she can watch it and at least see my face. I’d like to think that when she’s older, she’ll replay these videos and laugh like wild.

And of course when you come to Disney World, you have to leave with souvenirs. When we first arrived at our hotel here in Orlando, we had to quarantine for 36 hours straight. Mandatory. So when I got my green wristband off and leveled up to a Mickey Mouse wristband, I was finally allowed out to explore “The Bubble.” What’s the first thing I did? I went on a souvenir mission for my baby girl, duh!!! I hit up the Players’ Lounge, different spots around the hotel, even the arenas themselves to find fun things to send my daughter. I want to make her feel a part of this journey. Her spirit is always with me, and she’s always on my mind. And Ari, let me tell you…you’re gonna go crazy for these Minnie Mouse rice krispie treats I took from the lounge! I’ll have to find a way to keep the Mickey waffles and the tater tots fresh for you!

I’m not alone

It’s safe to say I’m not the only one missing my child inside the bubble. Us Dads all feel the same way (and Moms too—shoutout to our trainer Kim Caspare). We love the game of basketball, we love our jobs and we’re all happy to be back. But there’s a human element to this NBA season restart, too. I want to share a few stories about how these parents are keeping up with their angels all the way from the NBA Bubble.

  • Alec Burks, 76ers guard: Alec says the best way to keep in touch with his daughter is through FaceTime. She’s been showing him how she swims and points out every new boo-boo she gets. Lately, her favorite thing to eat is candy, like most three-year-olds. He says the funniest thing that she does is take the phone from Mom and show him around the house herself. Alec and his wife are expecting a son now, too! His daughter loves to show off Mom’s belly and their soon-to-be junior.
  • Kyle O’Quinn, 76ers center: Kyle has six-month-old twin boys named Braydn and Tate. FaceTime allows him to see how much they’re growing while he’s away. It gives his babies a chance to hear his voice and see his face. Kyle joked that his twins are so in sync, they even poo at the same time, hahhhhh! He laughs at how the little babies wiggle around. “Watching them roll over is cool,” he says. “Mom tells them to roll for Daddy and they get to rolling around. It’s so funny! Every day is an new experience, that’s what makes Fatherhood so special.”
  • Al Horford, 76ers forward/center: One morning here in the bubble, we were all getting ready to take the bus to practice. Some of us were already boarded. Right before Al stepped on the bus, he sent a surprise text to our team group chat, telling us that he was having his fourth child! Moments later, he walked on and we showered him with cheers. His announcement sparked a thoughtful conversation about fatherhood among the players on that bus ride. It made me reflect on just how many great dads we have on this team. Oh yeah, and CONGRATULATIONS AL AND AMELIA!
  • Kevin Johnson, 76ers head athletic trainer: Ready for a trip? Kevin was the trainer for this team back when my Dad played for Philly. Crazy how things work. Kevin has two kids: his 22-year-old son Mitchell, who works for the Washington Wizards, and a 14-year-old daughter named Jai. He uses FaceTime to communicate with both of them. His daughter asks to see virtual tours around our bubble campus—the practice sites, rooms, the water and the boats. And since his son is often working for the Wizards, another bubble team, they frequently talk basketball together. Kevin takes pictures of everything on his phone and has an album documenting this journey for his kids. He acknowledges the pain of the present moment, but he’s proud of his children and remains optimistic about our future.“Their generation can be very impactful in springing forward this movement, hopefully their kids and grandkids won’t see things we have,” he says.
  • Pascual Guerrero, 76ers assistant athletic trainer & physical therapist: Big congrats to Pascual, a soon-to-be dad! He is expecting his first baby on November 21st. That means he’s separated from his pregnant wife right now. But listen to how cool this is: his wife attaches these small speaker pads to her stomach, which allows him to read books through the phone to his baby in the womb! He reads to the baby in Spanish while his wife reads in English.
  • Scott Epsley, 76ers team doctor: Scott is from Australia, where his two kids still live. That’s more than 10,000 miles away! With the crazy time difference, communication can be challenging. Scott says the summer is usually the time of year he gets to spend with his kids back in Australia, so that’s been the hardest part of this restart for him. His son is in college and loves to talk politics. Scott says they have long, philosophical conversations, sometimes lasting hours. At 16-years-old, his daughter is more of a texter. They send videos of the local animals roaming outside in each country. If you didn’t know, there are a lot of lizards down here in Florida! I mean, like, A LOT. Scott sends her videos of them, and she sends back clips of koala bears.
  • Kim Caspare, team staff: I know this bubble is definitely male-dominated, but there are some hard-working superhero women in here, too! Kim has a 7-month-old daughter at home. She admits it’s hard, being physically separated from her baby for months, but Kim FaceTimes her daughter every morning and sings “You Are My Sunshine” through the phone. She says the best part of her day is the FaceTime right before her daughter’s nap. And through the screen, Kim also got to witness her daughter trying several foods for the first time! Carrots, prunes and apples.

There’s no guide book on how to parent from a quarantined bubble campus, and no blueprint for fathers watching their kids’ first moments through a cell phone.

We’re all trying our best, fulfilling responsibilities while battling this unique moment. I’m going to keep listening and learning, and I’m excited to keep my audience updated on my journey.

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Rita Strickland
Rita Strickland
1 month ago

Wow!!!! This is soooo awesome!!