There's a moment in Part 1 of his YouTube documentary series when Pascal Siakam turns to the camera, and succinctly sums up his bubble experience.
"The bubble wasn't Disneyland, I'll tell you that," the Toronto Raptors forward says with a wry smile.
Siakam had been enjoying a career season when the NBA shut down due to COVID-19 on March 11. He was coming off his first NBA all-star appearance. But he struggled mightily in the NBA's restart in the Walt Disney World bubble. And he was verbally crucified for it by angry fans on social media.
So Siakam decided to take control of the message, documenting his rigorous off-season training program in Los Angeles with Rico Hines, a coach he's worked with every summer for the past several years.
The result is Siakam's three-part YouTube series "Humble Hustle," released on Tuesday.
"I think we’re in an era where we can all decide to control what we put out there," said Siakam, who partnered with Red Bull on the series. "I love YouTube, I love watching videos and content. So just, finding ways to create your own content to put out. It was a no-brainer."
Siakam was the Raptors' main focal point last season following the departure of Kawhi Leonard, but after the four-month break during the global pandemic, the 26-year-old played like a shadow of himself at Disney.
He didn't have to read the social media vitriol. It was already playing on full volume in his head.
"I'm my biggest critic. I'm my biggest hater," Siakam says in "Humble Hustle."
"And anything that people told me, or anything about my game, I already told that to myself ... I already know that I didn't perform."
When Siakam watched video footage of his bubble games, he didn't recognize himself. The wide smile that rarely leaves his face was gone. He lost his love for the game, he said recently.
Now, Siakam will be scrutinized this season. Has he shaken off whatever bubble funk he was in?
Two weeks into this shortened training camp, Siakam said he's feeling great, and seeing the fruits of his work in L.A.
"It's been good seeing the progress every day, being in better shape, moving, I move way better," he said. "And obviously, it's pre-season, you're trying to find a good rhythm and just getting into the flow of everything again.
"I have a good routine. Every day I try to wake up as early as I can, get my work in before and stay in shape and make sure I keep the routine I had in the off-season. I feel like my body feels good and I’m stronger. Just little things that every day I try to do and for me, I think it’s working — just getting better every day."
Siakam averaged 10.5 points and 21.6 minutes in Toronto's two pre-season wins at Charlotte on Saturday and Monday.
Coach Nick Nurse was pleased with how well the athletic forward distributed the ball, saying that's part of Siakam's development, and something they'd been working on with him.
"That was our game plan . . . because they were sending so many bodies at him when he tried to drive, and I give him credit for passing out of those so willingly and doing it well," Nurse said. "That’s kind of the scenario you find yourself in in this league a little more lately when you’re a scorer. Some teams are saying, 'This guy’s not beating us tonight.' And on those nights you’ve gotta become a facilitator because there’s just no way to fight the game."
The Raptors host the Miami Heat on Friday at Amalie Arena, their temporary home court in Tampa, Fla., marking the first game they've played in front of fans since March 9 at Utah.
The Raptors announced Tuesday they'd permit limited fans to home games, selling 3,800 seats for regular-season games. They're among about a half dozen teams so far to say they'll allow fans.
The announcement prompted a mostly negative reaction from Raptors fans on social media. Florida's COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb. Some fans felt the Raptors are sending a bad message about health and safety.
Nurse said the team is confident that "they are taking all the measures and protocols and things that need to be done to make it safe. It's gotta be done. It's gotta be done that way."
The NBA bubble games had no live fans. The league improvised by showing virtual fans on a huge screen. The cavernous empty arena in Charlotte was a strange backdrop for the Raptors' two pre-season wins there.
There will be fewer than 3,200 spectators permitted for Friday's pre-season finale against visiting Miami.
Nurse said he's looking forward to having fans back.
"I think it’s a big part of basketball that fans bring," he said. "And more importantly, hoping that number can grow here quickly, as hopefully things improve with COVID.
"But I think in the pre-season the other night there was no fans, obviously, and it didn’t seem like that much of a difference. Once the game gets going and there’s some intensity out here and all that stuff, I thought the players were playing hard. We are looking forward to the fans but we’ve gotta play ‘em however we’ve gotta play ‘em right now and that’s what we tend to do."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2020.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press