Richardson Paquiot was bummed out.
His life, his livelihood, revolved around basketball, and COVID-19 snatched it away in an instant. One day he was a ballboy for the Miami Heat, tasked with working games at American Airlines Arena and the visiting locker room. The next day he was out of a job. Indefinitely.
So when the NBA presented the opportunity for ballboys to join the bubble, Paquiot signed up for the three-month commitment with no hesitation.
“It was kind of like a no-brainer for me,” Paquiot said. “I was obviously blessed and fortunate that the NBA reached out to me. I was excited to come. Granted, I knew I was going to miss my family for some time. But this is a rare opportunity. When will this ever happen again with one team in one location like the NCAA?”
First of all, they’re not ballboys anymore. They’re team attendants. Second of all, they’re not boys. They’re men and women. Paquiot, for instance, is 27 years old with a resume that includes stints as UTEP’s grad assistant and University of Florida’s student manager. Most of the team attendants are college graduates, some are G-League staff members, and they do much more than playfully rebound for NBA players.
“It’s not like it used to be when they were young teenagers,” said Sid Powell, the Orlando Magic director of team operations who is also running the NBA’s attendant program in the bubble.
In other words, this isn’t a case of taking youngsters away from their families and school to be stuck inside an NBA bubble. It’s providing a job opportunity. It also requires adjustments to accommodate a viral pandemic.
According to Powell, 55 team attendants are inside the bubble. Twenty were plucked from NBA teams, and the remaining 35 arrived from USA Basketball. They’re split in groups of eight or nine and work no more than one game per day. Their job, under normal conditions, is multi-layered and geared toward making the players comfortable. There’s a strong hospitality component:
They help unload and arrange equipment in the locker room.
They help players with food or distribute game tickets.
They also tend to the referees and coaches.
They rebound for players during warmups.
They set up the chairs.
During the game, they sweep and mop the court and grab warm-up jerseys from the scorer’s table, among other things.
The restrictions of the bubble have actually reduced their workload. They’re no longer allowed in the locker room after the players arrive, and there’s no food or tickets to sort through. The overriding purpose of the protocols is to avoid contact with the players, and some of an attendant’s normal responsibilities have been shifted to the team’s equipment manager.
“Coming into it we were prepared, but actually doing it is kind of tough because you want to help,” said Daniel Roy, a 24-year-old team attendant who is inside the bubble. “You want to be available for equipment managers and coaches and stuff like that.”
Paquiot said it was weird waiting outside the locker room before the game.
“As a team attendant, you always want to help out, always asking, ‘Is there anything I can do?’” Paquiot said.
The game brings more familiarity for the team attendants, albeit while wearing masks and gloves. They still rebound in warmups. Sets of two are stationed behind the basket and ready to sweep after free throws, but they’re so far back during the bubble games that they’re not visible in the broadcasts. If LeBron James needs an ice pack on the bench, a team attendant serves as the runner.
Paquiot said his first game Wednesday was a learning experience, but Thursday’s Lakers-Mavericks scrimmage went smoothly.
“Day 1 it was a little confusing because we didn’t know what we could do, what we couldn’t do — it’s just a figuring out process right now,” he said.
The team attendants arrived in Orlando on July 12 and quarantined for seven days, meaning they couldn’t leave the hotel room. Roy managed to run one mile in his room for three consecutive days, using only the small path from his bathroom to the window. He charted the back-and-forth movement on an app. Then he emerged to the restrictions at his Disney World resort, which is separate from where the players are staying. Some of the 55 team attendants will leave the bubble as the playoffs progress and the number of games per day dwindles. But Powell said they’re not accepting any new team attendants.
“The bubble might be the safest place to be right now,” Roy said.
Roy recently finished grad school at Louisiana Lafayette with a degree in Sports Management. He was looking for a job, but the pandemic wasn’t helping matters. Then the bubble happened. Roy had never worked an NBA game until last week, having only been an attendant for USA Basketball camps in the summer.
“We all said previously how COVID has hurt us so much in the job market. I have plenty of friends that are searching for jobs, and some that are here as well,” Roy said. “And COVID has hurt us, but without it, we wouldn’t be here, and have this opportunity to be in the bubble.”
Paquiot is using this experience as a schooling toward a career in basketball. He likes to rebound for players pregame because it provides him ideas for drills, and he writes them down after returning to his room. In between, he’s reading “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey.
“I’m trying to be as productive as possible,” he said.
For the team attendants, the bubble is restricting their jobs because of the protocols but it’s also opening up their opportunities.
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