When the NBA released its schedule to resume the season at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, Alex Caruso, the Los Angeles Lakers' reserve guard, cringed at the timing. His older sister by two years, Megan, was scheduled to get married on July 18 outside of Austin, Texas. Despite everything -- the season scheduled to resume, the coronavirus pandemic surging in Texas, the fact that part of the 100-plus-person celebration would take place indoors -- Caruso wanted to go.
"Megan is as close to my No. 1 fan as anyone could get," he told ESPN this week. The two have friends in common, and many would be at the wedding.
Caruso broached the subject with Frank Vogel, the Lakers' coach, and Rob Pelinka, vice president of basketball operations and general manager, when the team resumed workouts in Los Angeles. Both approved of Caruso attending, he said. Lakers officials declined to comment.
Caruso would've had to quarantine again in Orlando upon his return from the wedding, but he and the Lakers at first hoped the quarantine period would be only four days, Caruso said. The NBA's 113-page health and safety guidelines for the Orlando restart outline a 10-day quarantine for players and staff who leave the campus and reenter. But those guidelines designate a potential four-day quarantine for anyone who leaves with approval under "extenuating circumstances" -- including previously scheduled weddings and other family events -- provided the person tests negative for the coronavirus each day he is away. The guidelines make clear that the four-day floor is "subject to extension" if one of the league's outside infectious disease experts recommends it.
Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans left the Orlando campus for an urgent family matter last week. An NBA spokesman said, "Once we learn more about Zion's specific circumstances, we will determine his reentry protocol based on our rules." Montrezl Harrell of the LA Clippers also left Orlando last week to attend to an urgent family matter, and teammate Patrick Beverley exited Tuesday for an emergency personal matter.
Those who leave the Orlando campus without prior approval must quarantine upon return for 10 days, the guidelines state. That can be extended to 14 days, the guidelines continue.
As the wedding approached and the coronavirus situation in Texas worsened, Lakers officials in talks with NBA staff relayed to Caruso that his quarantine period would likely approach that 10-day threshold, he said.
Caruso and others involved understood that the guidelines mentioned the possibility of 14-day quarantines, though it is unclear what scenario (if any) would trigger a quarantine of that length. (The 14 days appear intended to be reserved for unexcused exits.) Caruso knew that given the Lakers' title hopes, he would exercise extreme caution upon returning.
"The worst-case scenario is that the virus is dormant inside me, I get cleared, and I'm around the whole team," he said.
Ten days would take Caruso out of scrimmages. Longer than that threatened the start of what the NBA has dubbed seeding games. Vogel and Pelinka reiterated their support for Caruso handling the situation how he wanted. Caruso ran the specifics by LeBron James and Anthony Davis to make sure the team's two best players would be OK with him attending the wedding.
"They supported my decision either way," Caruso said. "They also helped me realize how important I am to what we are trying to do here, now that [Avery Bradley] didn't make it and [Rajon Rondo] hurt his hand. There is some added responsibility."
In the end, everyone with the Lakers made it clear that they would be fine with Caruso leaving. "They had my back," Caruso said. "I felt genuine support from the organization."
Vogel called Caruso having to miss the wedding "gut wrenching."
"Obviously, anybody who knows me, knows that I'm a family-first guy and this was something that we would have loved for him to be able to attend," he said Thursday. "We gave him support whichever way he decided, but we just laid out sort of what it would look like in terms of how safe it would be upon his return -- with the mindset that we just want to make sure that we're keeping all our players safe -- and quarantines that would go into it. And then left it up to him to make his decision and we would have respected it either way.
"We've all made great sacrifices and we'll make bigger sacrifices the longer we're in here. Again, the longevity piece is the biggest piece of being away from our families. But to miss something like that, it just doesn't feel good and we respect the fact that he made that kind of sacrifice for what we're trying to get accomplished."
Caruso was prepared to pay for private flights from Orlando to Austin and back, he said. He was thinking of leaving after the Lakers' practice on July 17 -- the day before the wedding. He contemplated attending the ceremony, which was outdoors, and skipping the indoor reception. He looked into finding a "safe house" in the Austin area where he might be able to sleep after leaving the ceremony, but finding one on short notice proved impossible.
Last Thursday, two days before the wedding, he made his decision and texted his family: He would skip it. He had friends record "basically the whole event" and send him video, he said. He spent his downtime over the weekend watching the footage in his room.
"There were some people that should have had masks on that didn't," Caruso said of the wedding. "I would say 75% of the people had them on. Texas and Florida -- they can kind of be their own countries at times. Some people just like to do their own thing."
He could not FaceTime into the wedding because the phone reception wasn't good enough, he said. He said he is sad but at peace with his choice.
"If I was on a team that didn't have title aspirations -- a team trying to hold on to the No. 8 seed or something -- it might have been different," Caruso said. "But we have worked too hard."
ESPN's Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.