The Magnolia Hotshots' staff and players arrived at the Quest Hotel around lunchtime on Monday. This is where they will spend the bulk of the next two months or so as the PBA restarts on October 11 at Clark Freeport Zone in Angeles, Pampanga.
Strict protocols prohibit them from leaving the room unless headed to practice or actual games at the Angeles University Foundation Gym. Food, meanwhile, will be served on a table just outside the door.
That's why eight-time All-Star Paul Lee is leaning on his new-found skill to keep him going during their stay. Lee will dabble in coffee-making during their free time, a la Jimmy Butler.
Butler, who recently led the Miami Heat to the NBA finals, is also a budding barista in the NBA bubble. He is charging $20 for coffee. In between games, he serves latte, cappuccino, and more.
"Bawal talaga lumabas dito. Kailangan mo magdisover ng bagong gagawin. Isa sa mga na-discover ko yung pag gawa ng kape sa sarili ko (You can't go out here. You have to discover new things to do. And one of the things I discovered was how to make my own coffee)," he said in Monday's episode of 2OT.
"May kapatid akong barista, tinuruan ako. Bumili ako sarili kong gamit. Siguro dito sa loob ng kwarto mag-aral ako latte art (My sibling is a barista and that how I learned. I bought my own equipment. Maybe in my room I'll learn latte art)."
Despite the restrictions, Lee felt a sense of reassurance with the whole "Clark Bubble" set up.
"Nakakatuwa kasi mine-make sure ng PBA na safe tayo (It's heart-warming because the PBA is making sure we're safe)," Lee said.
Hotel service has been great as well. Although they are wearing face shields, employees - who are all staying in for the duration of the conference - look genuinely happy to be at their beck and call according to Lee.
"Makikita mo sa kaninang ng mga mata nila na excited sila. Very accommodating silang lahat. Kapag tumawag ka sa telepono ang bilis ng response nila sayo (You can see in their eyes that they're excited to have us. They're all very accommodating. When you call them on the phone they're very responsive)." said Lee, who has Magnolia newbie Jackson Corpuz as his roommate.
The three-time PBA champion, though, knows things will get harder by the day.
Several hours in, he could already feel the weight of living in such a set up. It's not like they are in a foreign country preparing for a FIBA tournament either since they cannot stroll around at will.
"Ngayon pa lang, nakailangang oras pa lang kami dito, hindi madali (As early as now, we just got here, and it's not easy)," he said. "May kakwentuhan pa ako dito. What more kung ikaw lang (I have someone to talk to. What more if I didn't)."
Lee has seen it before. NBA player Paul George struggled mightily inside the bubble with anxiety. It gravely affected his play and the Los Angeles Clippers subsequently bowed out in the second round of the playoffs.
That could happen to them as well, he says. "Kaya nung nakita ko yung kay Paul George naisip ko na pwede rin siya mangyari samin (When I saw what happened to Paul George, I thought that could also happen to us)," he said. "Sobrang sama ng laro mo tapos ikaw lang sa loob ng kwarto. Yun yung mabigat. Madali yung pag normal life e. Pag may laro ka, pag-uwi mo makakasama mo family mo, makakalimutan mo game. Ito sobrang hirap. (You play a very bad game, and you're all alone. It's easy during normal life. After you play, you go home to your family and forget the game. Here it's tough)."
For Lee, mental toughness will definitely make a world of difference in the bubble conference.
"Dito more on mental. Hindi siya about sa game. Siguro kung sino yung pinakamatibay mentally, mas makakatulong yun sa game niya kasi di siya masyado mag-iisip (Here it's more mental. It's not about the game. Maybe whoever is the strongest mentally, it will help his game because he won't have to think too much)," he said.
Despite the challenges these bubble conference pose, Lee remains optimistic. He finds pleasure in the fact that he doesn't need to drive to the venue every day and face heavy traffic on his way there. That gives him enough time to rest before the game, which is set every other day for each team.
"Hindi ka makakaramdam ng traffic. Makakapag pahinga kang maayos (You don't feel the traffic. You can rest properly)," he said.
There's no perfect formula on how to survive this conference mentally. There are little issues physically anyway since players had the time to conduct group workouts in the leadup to the resumption of games. It is only hoped each participant in the bubble conference can find ways to cope with the current set up brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Feeling ko magiging OK naman ang lahat (I have a feeling everything will turn out OK)," Lee said.