A DC spends 81 days during the historic time in Orlando, practicing advanced sports chiropractic inside the NBA ‘bubble’
The typical NBA season runs from October to April, covering a span of six months. But like every other sport in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced it short. However, instead of giving up and deciding to wait until 2021 to try to return to the regular schedule, this league exhibited the same fortitude and resilience of a top athlete and found a way to continue to forge forward. The solution it came up with is known as “the bubble,” where one DC performed advanced sports chiropractic work to keep athletes on the court.
As the name suggests, this bubble was developed as a way for the nation’s top basketball players to return to the sport they love by essentially isolating them as much as possible from COVID-19. It was set up at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, where teams played from the beginning of July to mid-October.
Sabrina Atkins, DC and founding CEO of Orlando Sports Chiropractic and the official chiropractic physician for the NBA’s Orlando Magic, spent 81 days in the bubble.
“It was absolutely amazing the way two enormous industries, the Disney Corporation and the NBA, joined forces,” Atkins said. “Events of less magnitude require at least nine months of planning in advance. The NBA and Disney successfully accomplished this enormous task in three months. I think that alone is astonishing. Basically, you had an entire city built, a self-contained city. That’s the thing that blows your mind.”
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when establishing this city was the virus and its ability to permeate and spread. How did the NBA and Disney work together to overcome this major issue and keep everyone involved safe?
“Although I cannot speak of the details inside the bubble, I can say, they thought of everything!”
Atkins said. “This was a success because they had brilliant minds working together and absolutely thought of everything.”
Expansion vs. limitation
From the outside looking in, it would appear the bubble was all about limitation. Yet for Atkins, in some ways the bubble made her world bigger versus smaller. While she has been treating Magic players since 2009, within the bubble she was able to expand this reach.
“From a sports chiro’s perspective, there’s nothing that thrills me more than being in the training room,” she says. “It’s my happy place … being the only contracted chiropractic physician for the NBA bubble, every team had access to my care. I got to see a variety of players and a variety of training rooms and the way they’re managed. The energy each team carries is very different. I got firsthand experience in each training room. It was so fun, and I learned so much. These are families! They live, eat and work together. And for a moment, I got to be a part of so many NBA families. I feel incredibly fortunate.”
Behind the scenes
What was the best part of this whole experience?
“The thing that was the most magical for me was the same [as] it has always been,” Atkins said, “being behind the scenes. I thought about it often while I was there and how much joy I find in being a part of behind the scenes. That’s where the fascination happens. What you see when you experience any production is just the tip of the iceberg. What went into creating this experience is so much bigger and so much more fantastic! Combine that with all the extra layers it took to keep us all safe concerning the coronavirus and you have pure magic. There is so much emphasis placed on the importance of teamwork and how a good team is one that can jell — a collective consciousness, if you will.
“Watching your favorite team play well is very exciting. To see the teamwork that is necessary for all the intricacies to fall into place to create an experience is my favorite part of anything I have ever been a part of.”
The experience also included meeting or seeing in action the trainers, therapists, camera crew, announcers, engineers, broadcasters, technicians, DJs, security, referees, transportation drivers, Disney staff members, and the ball boys and girls while applying advanced sports chiropractic work.
“In the bubble, I got to meet so many cool people and learn more about the roles they played,” she said.
“I walked away with a newfound appreciation for all that it takes on just a regular basis to create what you experience when you watch a game live and on television.”
The challenge of isolation
The most challenging part of her experience had nothing at all to do with the bubble itself. Instead, Atkins said that it was “being away from my daughter, Bella, for sure … when I got the call from the players association asking me if I was interested, I knew that if they were to offer this opportunity, I had to take it! This is what you prepare for as a sports chiropractor. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I knew it was an opportunity to represent women, to represent chiropractic, to represent working moms. As a result, it was something I had to do. These are the things you hope your little girl will be happy you said yes to. I had so much support from my friends, family, staff and patients. They all told me to take this opportunity. They were all very excited for me.”
Bella stayed with Atkins’ ex-husband during her time in the bubble.
“The first two weeks were really hard on me, leaving Bella and dealing with the guilt. It was a huge struggle. I knew I didn’t have to worry about her knowing I had the support from him and my friends. We spoke almost every day, except when she was busy having fun. We would Facetime and I would join her virtual lessons with her teacher. I would read her a bedtime story each night at bedtime.”
The second-greatest challenge was leaving her practice.
“It was my first baby, after all,” she says. “I love my patients and I feel a real sense of responsibility and commitment to them. Leaving for three months was scary. I have an amazing team with my practice, and they kept it rolling and increased their hours to accommodate our patients while I was gone. They are a big reason I could take this opportunity. They are the true champions.”
Another challenge during her time in the bubble was self-doubt and dealing with “imposter syndrome.”
“I would take walks out along the perimeter and just wonder to myself, ‘Am I really here? Me? Little old, five-foot-nothing, red-headed, freckle-faced girl from Rockmart, Ga.? Am I really the chiropractic physician for the NBA bubble?’ Funny how being chosen for something like this ironically makes you question your right to be there. But I did have a right to be there. I earned my way through hard work, drive and passion for what I do. I had proven my worth and I was determined to enjoy the ride.”
Advanced sports chiropractic and making ‘bubble friends’
Would she spend another 81 days in NBA isolation?
“Yes,” she said resoundingly, “100%. The experience was one of the most profound of my career so far. I’ve been in the sports industry for 20 years and have been working with the NBA Magic for 10 years. People in the NBA industry all these years that I had never even met, I now call friends. The bubble did that for us.”
Atkins said she had to earn trust across the board in her advanced sports chiropractic work, from the athletic trainer to the players.
“That is the biggest honor of them all,” she said. “Earning the trust of the athlete was one thing, but more importantly, the trust of the athletic trainer in charge of that player’s care and well-being. They protect their players fiercely, as they should. Like I mentioned before, these teams were families. I was welcomed and had the opportunity to work alongside some amazing ATCs, PTs, LMTs, DOs and MDs. I want them to know that they’re working with someone who truly cares about and wants the best for them and their team.”
Advanced sports chiropractic and the work/life bubble balance
Atkins said that not all her time in the bubble was consumed by work.
“I spent a lot of time outdoors taking pictures of the landscape,” she said, describing the flower blossoms inside Disney and a multitude of mushrooms that were growing in the marshy areas on the resort. “I’m a nature lover, so I would spend a lot of time walking around the trails. I even took my hammock. I found a lovely spot for yoga. I was able to play golf and ride my bike. We played whiffle ball and pickleball too. I even went for a boat ride. And, of course, there was the resort pool — I gained a few hundred more freckles! It was cool being in a place that afforded us these options so that we could maintain a work/life balance.”
In the end Atkins says the bubble experience was part of making history.
“All the ‘feels’ that come with knowing that I played a part in making history by participating in the first-ever NBA bubble! It was a great experience on many levels. An astounding accomplishment.”
SPENCER BARON, DC, DACBSP, served as a team chiropractic physician for the Miami Dolphins for 19 years and is author of “Secrets of the Game.” He currently serves as the team chiropractor for Nova Southeastern University Sports Medicine and is the president of NeuroSport Elite. In 2001 he helped establish the Pro Football Chiropractic Society and the Pro Baseball Chiropractic Society, bringing together some of the best sports chiropractors in the nation. Now he directs the same type of efforts to DoCS (Doctors of Chiropractic Sports at doc-sports.com), an organization committed to creating camaraderie and coaching within the chiropractic profession.