It was only seven months ago that a cut-short senior season left Lexie Bland disconsolate.
The former Ellensburg High School Bulldog and guard for Western Washington University was in Hawaii, preparing for the Vikings West Regional playoff matchup with a familiar foe, Alaska Anchorage — a chance to make a run at a national title.
But as the coronavirus ravaged the country, shuttering schools and sports, Bland’s career abruptly ended.
“I was just instantly in tears,” Bland said in March. “I just felt like there was a lot left.”
There’s a lot left to do beyond basketball. But why not stick around it for the time being?
The National Basketball Association’s 2019-20 season was shut down March 11 and with a $170 million investment, the NBA created an isolation zone known as the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., to resume its season without fans. Exhibition games commenced July 22-30, followed by regular season seeding games from July 30 to Aug. 14. Now, the NBA is preparing for the finals.
And because of a close connection, the 2016 Ellensburg High School graduate found herself with an opportunity to work in the Bubble. Bland arrived on July 12 and worked as a team attendant for one game a day before handling Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) responsibilities.
“It’s a really cool experience just to be able to be here,” Bland said. “See firsthand how everything operates, just to be able to put something this historic on and be able to help out with that is really cool.”
Bland’s duties come before tip-off, so she gets the opportunity to watch the world’s greatest basketball players up close in action. And this is after never attending an NBA game before working in the Bubble.
“Going to my first game and being courtside,” Bland said on what’s been the most exciting part. “I mean, I was rebounding for them, they would go check-in and I would pick up their uniforms for them. That was just cool see, and then get to go to the games now and just watch them and enjoy them.”
There are heavy protocols in place for players and staff to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, which has been proven successful in the NBA’s Bubble. Masks are to be worn by staff at all times, though they are not required to quarantine. Because of the confined space and no attendance, Bland’s got to know plenty of people.
“It’s like its own little community,” said Bland, who finished 12th all-time in assists at Western (333). “It’s cool, you get to know everyone pretty well in an escalated amount of time. You become close with people that you’re probably never going to see again. But yeah, it’s fun. Everyone here is super friendly.”
And who’s she rooting on with four teams remaining (Lakers vs. Nuggets, Celtics vs. Heat)?
“Either the Heat or Celtics right now,” Bland said. “Someone from the East.”
After the season is finished, Bland will head back to Bellingham and finish her degree (kinesiology and minors in biology and chemistry), while serving as the student assistant for the women’s basketball team.
She wants to be a physician assistant and once she graduates (around March), she’ll begin applying to schools with physician assistant programs.
And who knows, maybe working in the Bubble will lead to other possibilities.
“If I build a connection doing that for the NBA someday, that would be awesome,” Bland said.
Luke Olson: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter: @lukeolsonb