NBA

Danuel House’s Exile Is The Strangest Story Of The NBA Bubble

Danuel House checks into a game earlier in the playoffs.
Photo: Pool/Getty Images

The NBA announced on Friday afternoon that Rockets forward Danuel House has been permanently banned from the Florida bubble, after an investigation showed that he brought someone “who was not authorized to be on campus” into his hotel room for a few hours on the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 8. House was playing a crucial role for the Rockets in the playoffs, until he missed Game 3 against the Lakers with what the team called “personal reasons” at the time.

The weirdness of the House saga became apparent when Tyson Chandler, whose only playoff contribution was two untimed free throws, also missed Game 3 for the same vague “personal reasons.” The team clarified that neither absence was COVID-related, though nobody really knew why one of the Rockets’ most important role players was held out of a game that wound up being a critical loss for Houston. Then, two days later, Yahoo’s Chris Haynes broke the story that House was under investigation for some possible hotel shenanigans.

Haynes reported that House’s violation stemmed from him “allegedly allowing a female COVID-19 testing official into his hotel room.” The story was light on details besides that, and did not address Chandler’s connection, if one existed. Soon after Haynes’s initial story, The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Sam Amick fleshed the story out, but did so in such a way that raised just as many questions. The two reported that an unidentified woman passed several security checkpoints in the Grand Floridian Hotel (where the Rockets are the only team left) on Monday night before her entry was flagged as suspicious by NBA security. She left the hotel on Tuesday morning. “When the woman was questioned by NBA security,” Charania and Amick reported, “she did not implicate House’s name and it is uncertain whether she remains on campus, sources said. She claimed to have contact with Chandler and another player, not named House, according to sources.”

While clarifying that the woman was not an NBA employee, The Athletic did not address whether she was testing personnel or not, or whether she was someone who had been in the bubble prior to Monday night. They also referred to her as “a female” several times, which is both grammatically incorrect and also weird. The Athletic reported that the NBA claimed to have “circumstantial evidence” that exonerated Chandler but implicated House.

That evidence seems to be something beyond “door data,” a phrase used by the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen. As of Thursday night’s Game 4, House was definitely out, Chandler was definitely cleared, but there was still so much uncertainty around the House situation. There seemed to be a reticence to the reportage around the manner of the NBA’s investigation, which is certainly invasive and definitely involves the monitoring of players’ hotel room doors. Even then, it’s unclear what the “circumstantial evidence” is that led the league to quickly clear Chandler and the unnamed player while continuing to sequester House.

The NBA answered some of those questions when it announced House would be exiled from the bubble and not allowed back should the Rockets pull off an unthinkable comeback against the Lakers. The league said no other players or staff had contact with the woman, who they referred to as “the guest.”

All of this left me mostly curious about how invasive the NBA’s anti-COVID security protocols are. Players, including LeBron James, have been very forthright on the isolating and alienating effects of being away from one’s family, and I would think daily tests, whereabouts restrictions, and living in the bubble for over two months straight only make it feel worse. Also, Charania and Amick reported on a “growing sense among team executives that this is far from an isolated incident,” though they reported that before the NBA announced that House’s guest wasn’t authorized to be on campus at all.

At least for House’s sake, his “season-long ban” will really be more of a “one-game ban,” since his team is playing like a squad that has given all the way up and would like nothing more than to leave the bubble. After being allowed a little peek into the NBA security state, I can’t blame them for feeling that way.