Being inside the PBA Bubble in Pampanga means players and coaches will be without their usual perks and comforts. Routines that have remained constant and essential throughout their careers will have to be changed.
For Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone, proof of that detachment was evident in his game-day attire. Typically walking down the sidelines wearing his trademark long sleeves and neck ties, Cone and the rest of his staff donned simple black polo shirts during the their first game of the 2020 season Sunday against NLEX. Cone has worn a shirt and tie ever since he started his career with Alaska in 1989.
"We debated over that. But we're coming in here for two and a half months and we had to bring like 15 ties and 15 polo shirts and dress shoes, and it was just too much to do all that," he said after Ginebra's 102-92 win against the Road Warriors. "It's different. I used to do it not because it's comfortable wearing a tie, it's just the fact that I just feel like I should be doing work."
Cone said he didn't wear a tie when he coached in the All-Star Game and in the Southeast Asian Games in Manila last year, "but in the PBA in the last 30 years, I think this may be the first time I'm not wearing a tie in an official game."
"We're gonna be wearing black because I look fat when I'm wearing the other color," Cone joked. "Black's the color that that would make me look halfway decent. I forced all my other coaches to wear black. I'm 99.9% sure that when we get back to the normal conference, I'll be back to my neck tie."
Does he like it? Probably not. But there are bigger things to think about -- like actual basketball, for instance.
"We do what we have to do, right? This where we are. We just have to do what we have to do and that's been our philosophy all the way coming in here," he said. "It's our passion to play basketball, so when you get a chance to do the thing you're happy doing. you'll overlook some of the discomforts that you have to do your thing."
Players -- or at least those within the Ginebra camp -- have taken that separation from reality in stride, though Cone said there are still certain adjustments that will have to be made as the Philippine Cup goes along in the bubble. The most obvious difference is playing in empty venues without fans -- a marked disadvantage for a beloved Ginebra franchise that is used to playing in front of loud fans.
"It's different. There's no crowd. So we have to tell our bench to stay engaged and cheer. We're our own little crowd," said Cone. "I think that's the biggest adjustment for us right now, trying to generate the enthusiasm and encouragement while the game is going. We used to have it given to us, now we gotta generate it ourselves."
That type of energy can't just come from the usual guys riding the pine, though, as Cone seemingly asked more from the team's leaders to contribute whenever they're not playing on the floor.
"It's really about remembering that the bench itself has to be engaged, the guys who are not playing. And we're talking about the leaders," said Cone. "The leaders have to do that. When Japeth [Aguilar] comes off the floor, when LA [Tenorio] comes off the floor, Stanley [Pringle], they have to stay engaged with their teammates and make sure they're cheering on their teammates. You just can't rely on our three rookies being the cheerleaders."
On top of that agenda is longtime franchise star Mark Caguioa, who has spent the good part of recent seasons playing limited minutes off the bench for Cone and Ginebra.
"Like Mark Caguioa always reminds us, there's still millions of fans out there that are watching us, and we have a responsibility to them to make sure we bring our best foot forward," Cone said. "Although we didn't play a pretty game, we played a hard game and we won it for the fans."
Another adjustment that's perhaps more important than anything else is the recovery time -- particularly for Aguilar and Tenorio. The star duo visibly struggled against NLEX -- Aguilar had seven points on nine shots, while Tenorio scored one and missed all four shot attempts -- in part because they both arrived just days before the season opener.
"We're not in great shape, there's no doubt about it," Cone said. "Especially guys like Japeth and LA, who have not done any activities for the last couple of weeks. ... I think they're gonna need a week or maybe two before they're at full strength."
Time isn't an ally. Although teams are still spared the grind of back-to-back games, the usual break that is afforded isn't available since the elimination round is compressed to a month.
But it's just like Cone with his ties: everyone will have to live without it.
"Recovery is gonna be crucial for everybody, and that's the thing we have to focus on in the next few days so we can get the energy to get back into practice and work hard, create habits and be ready to play Blackwater," Cone said.