While Walt Disney World is a vacation destination for most of the people that enter the resort’s grounds, it’s become the de facto home for 22 NBA teams for the next several months. One of the hardest things players had to do upon agreeing to play in the NBA’s restart in Orlando, Florida was saying goodbye to their families.
The Dallas Mavericks are a young team, and many players haven’t started families of their own. However, those with children found themselves with the unenviable task of explaining why they were leaving for what could be upwards of two months.
“It was tough,” Mavericks guard J.J. Barea said. “It was hard saying bye, but it’s part of your job. It’s something you want you kids to understand. In life, you got to separate from your family sometimes for the better of everybody.”
Barea has three children. His son, Sebastian, who is eight-years-old, is the oldest. He understands what his dad is doing and why he’s gone. That’s not the case with his four-year-old daughter, Paulina. She hasn’t yet grasped why Barea isn’t home.
“She asks me every time on Facetime, ‘When are you coming home, daddy?’” Barea said. “So, I got to explain almost every day, ‘Hey, daddy’s working. He’s playing basketball with his friends.’ She’s getting it a little bit every day, but that’s something that’s part of our lives.”
He’s not the only player on the Mavericks with kids. Backup center Boban Marjanovic is a father. So is Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley-Stein opted to sit out the season restart because his partner was due to give birth in July. They welcomed Kendrixx Marie Cauley-Stein into the world on July 7.
Swingman Dorian Finney-Smith is also a dad. He has two kids, but deciding to join his teammates at Disney wasn’t a difficult decision for him, especially given the state of things. He left them in good company.
“Well for me, it was a little easy because my kids are gone for the summer,” Finney-Smith said. “They are with their grandparents. And then, they’re not knowing when school’s going to start so a lot of things are up in the air right now. My mom and my son’s mom all told me to come out here and focus on this and handle business.”
Much like Barea’s oldest, Finney-Smith’s daughter, Sinai, who is 10, understands why her dad is away to an extent. Yet, she doesn’t completely grasp the extent of why he’s gone what he’s doing.
“She gets it a little bit. She just thinks I’m having fun because I’m at Disney,” Finney-Smith said. “I got to explain to her that we’ve got to keep our distance where I’m at.
“When I told her about staying in our room for 48 hours, she was looking at me like I was crazy—how can I do it? Like I said, my daughter, she gets it a little bit, but she just knows I got to do my job.”
Finney-Smith and Sinai visited Disney World in February during the All-Star break. Because of that, he isn’t planning on bringing her any souvenirs from his stay. She already has too much Disney stuff, he says.
As for his three-year-old son, Dorian Jr., well, “He doesn’t really pay me no mind. He’s just happy to be with his grandma,” Finney-Smith said.
Families can join players in Orlando after the first round of the playoffs. If the Mavericks advance, family members joining the team will have to self-quarantine for three days in Orlando away from the Disney campus. Then, after another four-day quarantine inside Disney, they’ll be able to roam freely on the grounds.
Even though their families can eventually join them, it doesn’t take away the sting of leaving them behind. Travel has always been a part of the NBA lifestyle, but the current situation is unprecedented.
“It’s just sometimes you got to do it,” Barea said. “You got to sacrifice some stuff, but hopefully it will go by pretty quick and you get back to your family.”