Secrets of the NBA’s Bass-Fishing All-Stars – The Wall Street Journal

Paul George poses with a fish he caught inside the NBA’s bubble in Orlando, Fla.

Photo: Jim Poorten/NBAE/Getty Images

The NBA will soon finish its regular season inside its pandemic-defying bubble on Disney property in Orlando, Fla. Next up: the bubble playoffs, with a bubble champion to be crowned in October.

Will it be the Clippers? The Bucks? The Broncos? The Red Wings?

I have no idea! This isn’t a column about basketball.

This is about fishing. Specifically, bass fishing.

Bass fishing is quite the leisure diversion inside the NBA bubble, where the world’s finest hoopers are walled off from the outside world, with unlimited access to a Xanadu of Floridia vacation habits. You have your golf nuts, your tennis hackers, your cornhole beanbag-throwers, your pickleballers, and, of course, there was some scattered grumbling about the room service.

No offense to those silly pastimes, but bubble fishing is where it’s at. As soon as the NBA turned up in Orlando, player Instagram feeds began to fill with photos of tall men holding small fish. Sometimes, the fish weren’t so small—they were big, beautiful, large-mouth bass, plucked from the lakes surrounding the property.

The bubble, it turns out, is a fishing paradise.

“It’s really good,” said Devon Hall of the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I’ve caught some good-sized bass out here.”

The best-known fisherman in NBA circles is probably Paul George of the Clippers, a perennial All-Star on the court who has hosted a fishing tournament of his own. But anglers abound. Chris Paul of OKC is said to be skillful. Indiana’s T.J. Leaf and Memphis’s Jonas Valanciunas, too. Even Boban’s been fishing—as in Boban Marjanovic, the beloved 7-foot-4 big man from the Dallas Mavericks.

“My fishing skills are getting much better,” said Marjanovic. “I was sooooo bad.”

“They’re really competitive with each other,” said Michael Whitt, who supervises recreation at the Disney resorts and hotels. “Some of them will sneak out in the morning and come find us and say, ‘Hey, can you show me some tricks?’”

Who’s the NBA’s fishing MVP? What’s the All-NBA Fishing First Team?

“There’s a couple of guys on the Magic that I’d put up against them any time,” said Whitt.

Like whom?

“Gary Clark,” Whitt said of the Orlando forward, who grew up in North Carolina. “If I had to choose someone for my fishing team, I’d choose Gary Clark…you can tell he knows what he is doing.”

When I spoke to Clark, he sounded like he’d gone to heaven. He’d brought his own tackle into the bubble.

“I do all kinds [of fishing], but I’m really good at bass fishing,” he told me. “Cat fishing or deep-sea fishing, you can’t really control if something is hitting that day. [With bass fishing], my theory is that if you dance your worm the right way in the water…”

See: This is the other thing. If you know a bit about bass fishing, you know it is a sport with endless talk about baits, techniques, locations, casting, water temperature, depth, and on and on and on. Style and situation is as meaningful as it is in basketball. Do you use crankbaits? Spinnerbaits? Do you dead-stick? Drop shot?

(I act like I know what I am talking about. I do not know what I am talking about. I merely share my home with a 7-year-old who is obsessed with bass fishing. That kid could fill a car ride from the St. Lawrence River to New York City yapping about the last bass he caught. I know this because he did it the other day.)

“I use plastic worms, Gary Yamamoto Senko worms,” Clark said. “I love Senko worms cause they sink—they’re heavier worms, so I don’t have to put a weight on them to throw them pretty far.”

“It’s not rocket science,” said Hall. “Either you’re going to use a live bait, you’re going to use a jig, you’re going to use crankbait…you switch it up. You got to know where you’re at. Sometimes I think using live bait is cheating the system a little bit, but that’s just me.”

There has been some talk that the fishing in the bubble may be too good, so good that it seemed suspicious, to the point where league observers have wondered if the NBA ordered the bubble waterfront restocked with bass before the players arrived. Perhaps commissioner Adam Silver was snorkeling among the weeds, attaching hawgs to the hooks of point guards and power forwards.

But Disney’s Whitt said that the resort lakes—originally stocked with 70,000 bass fingerlings in the late 1960s when construction was under way, and not fished for close to a decade after that—haven’t had any form of recent resupply.

“We haven’t stocked it in years,” Whitt said. “It’s natural now.”

The NBA denied any restock.

“Reports of the NBA stocking the pond with fish are complete abalone,” said league spokesperson Mike Bass. “There is nothing fishy going on.”

Yes, the NBA spokesperson’s name is Mike Bass. So technically, BASS DENIES BASS.

In the end, the best part about fishing inside the bubble is that it’s, you know, fishing. The world’s gone upside down for the past few months. A pandemic lingers. Protests for social justice continue. There’s pressure inside the bubble, too—to push on in the playoffs, make those critical shots, and not let Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk in your face.

But fish are fish. They’re not watching cable news or calling into sports radio to yell about your minutes. Their world is the lake, not the Lakers.

“It’s really calming,” said Clark. “For however long I’m out there…I can detach myself from outside world. It’s probably the best part about fishing.”

“It makes you have patience,” said Devon Hall. “I enjoy that.”

Of course, these fishermen are also pro athletes. They want to win. They visualize success. In the bubble, they dream about a trophy, and holding it high in the air.

“There’s no way this lake doesn’t have 10-pound bass hanging out in there,” Clark said.

Share Your Thoughts

What do you think of the bass fishing scene in the NBA bubble? (If you’re a bass fishing expert, give some advice!)

Write to Jason Gay at Jason.Gay@wsj.com

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