Special delivery: With players confined to campus, massive package distribution system becomes crucial


That’s beside the point: NBA players are trapped on campus and so their families and friends and companies are doing their part to make this extended stay as comfortable as possible.

“Man, those care packages are nice and right on time,” said Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker. “I always look forward to those.”

The two heaviest and strangest items received so far — it’s only August and The Finals end in mid-October — are a refrigerator and a leg press machine. Every player hotel room has a mini-refrigerator but those don’t make ice, so someone had his team purchase a real one, too.

The Bucks had the leg press machine shipped from Milwaukee and the only problem is the steel brontosaurus is too large to fit in the elevators and inside the doors of the player rooms. So it sits idle in the warehouse, where Giannis Antetokounmpo has yet to give it a try.

“I had to bring a punching bag to a player’s room that was shipped here during quarantine,” said Vernon Peterson, an office coordinator who assists with the process. “I guess you gotta work out, you know.”

Next on the who-knew list is a Casper mattress, fresh off the Amazon truck.

“I guess after six weeks,” Messer said, “someone decided they needed a new bed.”

Players are ordering up a storm on Amazon, which sends trucks three or four times daily to the NBA campus here. Tucker, who’s a big sneaker head, has purchased multiple pairs of shoes for his vast collection. Players are ordering microwave ovens by the dozens. The Disney golf courses are open to players, and first-time golfers recently bit by the bug here are buying golf clubs. Same is true for fishing gear: players here are learning to fish for the first time and buying rods and lures.

Two other products stand out in terms of supply and frequency: wine and water.

The desire for wine is understandable as players are using alcohol to wind down after practice and games. Some of them, such as Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, have their own brands or are getting into the business. Along with hundreds of cases of wine, players are buying wine coolers, too.

Many players have had fishing gear delivered in Orlando as they aim to become avid fishermen (like Paul George already is).

“I didnt think so many would ship wine,” Messer said. “I thought it was more of a beer world here.”

As for water, it’s everywhere in the warehouse. Not only that, the range of water companies is vast, proving that when it comes to water, not all taste the same, evidently.

“I’ve never heard of Waiakea water,” Peterson said. “Have you heard of Eternal Water? I’ve heard of Essential water. But Eternal comes in by the case. And Topo Chico water? That’s over here.”

The packages, from envelopes to crates, all must pass health inspection as the coronavirus pandemic rages and the league remains hypersensitive about safety. That means the packages get spritzed with Clorox outside in the parking lot once they’re unloaded from the truck. Then they’re dollied into the warehouse and sorted and recorded by tracking number on computers. The total so far exceeds 60,000 and counting.

Messer is now 30 years on the job and her normal shipping sites during a normal season are All-Star weekend and The Finals.

“Compared to this,” she said, “they don’t compare.”

More than anyone else, she has a pulse on the players, their appetites and lifestyles. Or maybe their adjusted appetites and lifestyles as it’s all about blending into your surroundings.

“I wonder how much of this is about adapting to life in here,” Messer said. “When you’re faced with sitting in your room or getting out, what can you do here? So, they’ll buy things that they can use here.

“Maybe fishing, people are taking up golf, the lawn games, they’ll buy pool floats but mainly the extra large ones. It’s like, hey, let’s make the best of what we can do while we’re here as opposed to doing nothing.”

But … 100 tennis racquets? One team ordered that.

“I guess they wanted to hold a tournament,” Messer said.

One item inside the warehouse seems curious. It’s a pair of basketball hoops, sitting untouched, except for when a deliveryman gets the urge to shoot a 3-pointer after dropping off packages. Messer said those originally were to be set up in the hotel parking lots and used by workers and media, but social distancing rules nixed that idea.

With the NBA getting ready for the start of the playoffs on Aug. 17, and with further reductions coming as teams get eliminated, the amount of mail should decrease. Or so it would appear.

“Remember, the families of the players are coming here pretty soon,” Messer said.

Which means wives, significant others and kids are already placing their orders. The NBA’s gonna need a bigger warehouse.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him  here, find his archive here  and follow him on  Twitter .

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