Orlando shooting guard Evan Fournier and his wife Laura had their first child, Elias, in June of 2019. But shortly after Elias was born, Fournier was off to play in the FIBA World Cup for his native country - France.
When Fournier returned from China in mid-September (were the FIBA World Cup was held), the 27 year-old wing had just weeks to recuperate before the Magic started training camp.
Such is the life for a professional athlete; a lot of travel, many nights away from home. So when the professional sports world collectively froze in time in late March, Fournier (like many professional athletes) found himself in a situation he was unaccustomed to - at home with nowhere to go.
“I had a great time during the shutdown, it was the best time of my life to be honest,” Fournier told reporters during a Zoom conference on Thursday afternoon. “Being able to spend time with my son, see him grow everyday, not leaving home. You know, I love being at home - and having time to just work on the things that I want to work on.”
In the context of what was being discussed, it makes sense what Fournier has been feeling about his extended time at home. Obviously he understands the magnitude and the seriousness of COVID-19 and how it has affected all parts of the globe (of course), but within Fournier’s home “bubble”, he’s been able to use this period to spend quality time with his immediate family - time he wouldn’t normally have had during the regular season. For example, Fournier was home to be able to witness his son Elias’ first steps back in April.
“I had a great time, I really did. It’s unfortunate, but we had a great time at home. So leaving them (Evan’s family) behind is going to be tough for sure.”
Ah yes, reality sets it. And it’s a harsh reality for all players, coaches, and team staff that plan on entering the NBA’s bubble at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports Complex. How long will I be away from my immediate loved ones? Weeks? Months?
“I have no idea. It’s definitely frustrating because we’re in Orlando, but it doesn’t really matter,” Fournier said. “My house is going to be a like two minutes away but it’s going to feel like miles away. It’s just a weird feeling knowing that I could be seeing my wife and son everyday, but I’m not. It’s the same for everyone so...I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to feel once we’re inside the bubble, but we’ve just got to get ready for business and just take care of our stuff - that’s the way it’s going to be, so be it.”
Fournier’s house may be close to the NBA’s Disney campus, but he told reporters that his wife and son will not be there while the Magic finish out their season. Laura and Elias will be heading back to Paris to stay with Evan’s family, a development that makes Fournier feel a little better about the entire situation.
“One of the good things about being in the bubble is we’re going to have a lot of time for ourselves,” Fournier added. “I’m going to focus on myself really, just try and read a lot, do a lot of my business stuff from my computer, but mostly just focus on myself. Since I have a son now, I’m taking care of him all day. So I really only have two to maybe three hours a day to focus on myself and do things that I don’t usually do, so now I will have all day. So I’ll just do that and call my friends, family, play a little bit of video games - just relax.”
Without the ability to spend time with friends and family, or even the freedom to do most things that NBA players are used to regularly doing, “bubble” participants will certainly be hard pressed to fill their time off the court.
But for Fournier and the Magic, the time spent on the court during the NBA’s re-start will be all business.
The Magic currently sit eighth in the Eastern Conference standings, one half game behind the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets. Earning a playoff berth, which would entail a longer stay inside the “bubble”, is an obvious goal the Magic are striving for. Surpassing the Nets in the standings, and consequently avoiding a first round match-up with the Milwaukee Bucks, is another likely goal the franchise has set forth for themselves. But even Fournier conceded Thursday that things inside the bubble at Disney won’t exactly mirror what he and his teammates experienced last year in the playoffs.
“When I think about going into the playoffs, I think about going on the road (and) playing in a hostile environment - having media coverage and all that,” Fournier said when asked about the atmosphere he anticipates inside Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. “To me, it’s not going to be a good playoff atmosphere, so you don't get to really experience it (for real). However, you do get to play meaningful games against the best teams in the NBA. So that’s the part where you can learn and grow, and I think that’s what we should focus on.”
Competition, team growth, evaluation. Those are all great concepts; undoubtedly, closing out the 2019-2020 season at Disney can potentially provide NBA organizations with opportunities to experience all of those things. Yet as Fournier explained Thursday, money is an even bigger idea that is (in large part) the reason why so many people are working to try and make the completion of the season possible.
“That’s the main reason why we’re going to start the season, because us not playing (and the NBA just cancelling the season), the NBA would lose so much money,” Fournier said when asked about the NBA’s murky immediate financial future. “Like a huge impact on next year - for the owners, for us, for the salary cap, for everyone. We’re trying to save the season, that’s my take on it. We’re trying to save it financially, us going to Disney.”
Of course, Fournier has some skin in the game (so to speak) when it comes to the NBA’s financial landscape as well. Orlando’s starting shooting guard holds a player option for the 2020-21 season. If he declines the option, which many people predict he will do (because of the economic uncertainty that surrounds the NBA), he will make $17 million next season and then become a free agent in the summer of ‘21. If he exercises his player option, Fournier would become an unrestricted free agent this off-season.
“As far as my free agency, I have no pressure at all really, because I have a player option regardless,” Fournier told me. “So when the moment comes, I’m just going to look at (stuff) and look at the numbers - and then make my decision. But there’s really no pressure.”
No pressure. And no physical contact with family and friends. And no traveling outside of the NBA’s proposed bubble for an extended period of time. Oh, and no fans when the games ultimately start either.
“It’s going to be the first time for all of us playing with no fans. It’s going to be like a scrimmage, but (actually) playing a real game,” Fournier said. “So the energy is going to be flat (in the arena), we’re going to have to find the energy within - and that’s going to be a challenge (for sure). But that’s the way it’s going to be, so we’ve got to find a way to do it.”
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.