Outside the NBA Bubble: Elle and Meyers Leonard Are That Couple and It's Actually Kinda Sweet

For some couples, the 24/7 together time of quarantine was a true test of marriage, but Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard and Elle Leonard are not that couple. She shared her love story with E! News.

With the COVID-19 pandemic changing how we do, well, everything, the NBA was forced to come up with a new game plan to finish their 2019-2020 season.

The solution—the much-discussed bubble—saw some 300 players from the league's top 22 teams sequestered in one of three Disney World resorts for up to three months as they strive to be crowned champions of this long, strange season.

But what about the those on the outside feeling as if their bubble had burst? With their partners locked down in Florida, scores of women have been left to navigate work responsibilities, bedtime routines, middle-of-the-night feedings, meal prep and, in some cases, even childbirth without their teammate. And now they're speaking exclusively with E! News about that new normal. These are their basketball diaries.

When Elle Leonard learned that the NBA bubble would be separating her from husband Meyers Leonard for, at minimum, seven weeks, she was understandably bummed at the prospect of months without her college sweetheart. But there was another member of the family she worried would take the Miami Heat center's absence even harder. 

"I think the dog really misses him," she confessed to E! News of their husky Koko. "Like she's been very moody since he left and I definitely have noticed, that is one of the biggest things." To cope with these, uh, dog(less) days of summer, she continued of Meyers, 28. "When he FaceTimes me, there's always a request to see the pup." 

But while man's best friend is getting her fix quite often, the 7-foot-1 veteran also chooses to converse with the missus here and there throughout the day. "If you were to look at my FaceTime calls with this dude, you would think like he has nothing else to do," she admitted. "It's honestly sweet." Some of their chats are business-related, the duo's LEVEL Foods line of bars born in 2018 from Meyers' need to find a snack option that wouldn't wreck his anti-inflammatory diet.

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As a couple, you have to be able to handle anything thrown at you ?

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But the rest? Well, having been inseparable since meeting their freshman year at the University of Illinois, they're just really not huge fans of being apart. "There has been no point in our entire relationship where it's just two months we haven't seen one another," 28-year-old Elle explained of the past decade with her guy. "I really like having him around." A true teddy bear of a man, despite his 7-foot-3 wingspan and penchant for rejecting shots at the rim, "He's so sweet," she raved of the 2012 NBA draft lottery pick. "The most lovable guy. Even though he's a giant, he's just one of those people you want to, like, grab and hold."

Until that moment comes—sometime between late August, should the Heat get bounced in the first round by the Indiana Pacers, and mid-October, should they dribble their way to the finals—she's adjusting to this new normal. In a phone interview earlier this month, she told E! News all about her game plan. 

By, say, mid-April, some couples were so afflicted by COVID-induced cabin fever that they were crawling the walls, desperate to get some time apart from one another. The Leonards? Not so much, which is why the shift from round-the-clock together time to a full separation in July was so jarring. 

Used to being apart for short stretches during away-game trips, "I remember, I looked at him in June," she recalled. "I go, 'You know what's kind of great? I'm not sick of you yet. Like I still really like hanging around you.' So I think just the complete polar opposite of seeing him 24/7 for four months, or however long it was, to nothing, there's just something missing. It's like when you forget your phone and you're like, 'I'm forgetting something, I can't remember.' It's that feeling."

Of course, she's well aware of precisely what's absent: Her partner in life—and impossibly endearing social media content. (Seriously, they're adorable: Check out this montage set to the Full House opener or this Shaggy tribute featuring pup Koko.) Elle's playful feed was a journey some eight years in the making, the then-20-year-old advertising major nervous about presenting herself in the public eye when Meyers first entered the league. "You're very reluctant you don't want to step on anyone's toes at first," she explained, "and eventually you realize, like, being so, let's say, 'Instagram perfect' or having the most beautiful feed is the most empty feeling, and actually just being able to be goofy and yourself, it's effortless almost."

Because for all their Barbie-and-Ken good looks and undeniable athletic skills, Elle insists she and Meyers are more quirky than perfectly filtered. "He's a goofball," she described. "I think a lot of our playfulness is really just me, in the most endearing way possible, making fun of him. He's goofy and then I'm goofy which brings out this, like, super-weird-but-we're-okay-with-sharing-it goofiness. It just results in a lot of laughs."

And they're happy to share that lightness with their combined 373,000 Instagram followers. "It's not forced, it's enjoyable, and I don't think people realize that social media can actually be fun," she noted. "You know, people feel pressure from it. And the second we have pressure, we're living in overdrive. We have enough pressure. If you're going to share something it should be something that makes you smile and laugh and it's okay to be you. You should be you."

Speaking of making fun of the NBA center… Elle is here to call him out on the number of things he required for bubble life. "First of all, this was like a move. It wasn't packing, it was a move," she shared. "The amount of things we went through and we had to pack."

And yet one key item got left behind. "I told him when we were packing, I'm like, 'Dude, I already know I'm sending you stuff, I'm just waiting for what it will be. The one thing I ask you is please, please don't make it something that's hard to ship, like golf clubs. Decide right now if you want your golf clubs or not.'" Thinking it over, Meyers decided that he likely wouldn't hit the links, he'd be just fine with all the video gaming equipment he'd stashed in his luggage. "Four days in, and this guy goes, 'I need my golf clubs,'" she recalled. "I saw this coming. I go, 'There was one item. There was one item.' I shouldn't have even said it. I knew it was happening." 

While Meyers is working on his golf game (and, you know, playing for a potential championship), Elle has been polishing up some skills of her own. A former high school standout, she decided not to pursue basketball in college ("I got extremely burned out"), but never lost her talent for making trick shots. (Her specialty: scoring with two balls at a time.) "One thing I could always do was shoot," she said. And so when they settled into a house in Oregon—where Meyers played for the Portland Trail Blazers for seven seasons up until a 2019 trade to Miami—she decided to break in their home gym. 

 

While Elle is undoubtedly Meyers' number one, she remains in awe of how the rest of his squad has had his back. With much of the league taking a knee during the pre-game National Anthem—a form of protest meant to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement—Meyers knew that the rest of the Heat players intended to kneel ahead of their Aug. 1 match with the Denver Nuggets. But he was torn about what to do. 

"It's been difficult," he admitted to ESPN's The Undefeated post-game, "because the truth of the matter is I have a loving heart, very compassionate, and I'm very aware of what is happening in America today and what has been going on for many years." 

However, he also has an older brother who's served two tours in Afghanistan with the Marines. And while he understands that kneeling has nothing to do with the flag or the military, the anthem represents both for him. "Based upon real-life experiences and real raw emotion that I've had in my life," he explained, "that is what that means to me." 

So after a few heartfelt chats with current teammates Jimmy ButlerAndre Iguodala and Udonis Haslem, as well as the Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, he decided on his own personal take. As as he stood, wearing his Black Lives Matter shirt over a jersey bearing the term "equality," teammates on either side of him placed a hand on his leg.

"I don't think I'll ever be able to say thank you enough for his teammates," Elle marveled. "Not only listening, but being willing to have a conversation about it and being able to explain, you know, their personal experiences and then also saying you can stand for two things." She also applauds the Heat as an organization for kickstarting the conversation early. "It allowed Meyers, to say, 'Hey guys, my brother did two tours in Afghanistan. When I see the flag, I see something different, but I'm still with you too,' and being able to talk about that," she said. "The teammates supporting him and taking that risk, I'm lost for words. It was phenomenal."

Not that there would have been an ideal time to spend a chunk of the year apart, but Elle likely wouldn't have picked for it to happen 10 months after they left their life in Oregon behind. "We had a strong community in Portland," said Elle. So when she realized she'd have to fend for herself in a still-new city, "I'm like, 'Dude, if you leave, like, I know people but, I'm gonna be like a crazy dog lady in the house.'" 

Thankfully her college-aged sister Lydia Bielfeldt was ready to save her from herself. "My sister came and has replaced or, you know, done her job to replace his energy in the house," she shared. And now that she's got a buddy, Elle's actually a little more concerned about her other half. "I think it's honestly been a little bit more difficult for him than he expected," she said of Meyers. "He is very much about, he calls it radiation, he just likes having, me and people around."

In addition to Lydia's energy and inherent Gen Z TikTok knowledge, Elle has access to any number of sympathetic ears through the philanthropic National Basketball Wives Association. "So, I met [NBWA President] Mia Wright when she was in Portland when Dorell [Wright], her husband, was playing there," shared Elle. "And one thing you should know is, she is a visionary, and she is like a strong hustler. And so, from being with all these different teams, she has just made this amazing network of strong women and you can see the impact that we can have."

It's not as if Elle envisioned her life as the founder and CEO of an in-demand protein bar line, it just sorta happened. "When Meyers was in his fifth year, he wasn't feeling well. He wasn't sleeping. His body wasn't recovering," she recalled. "The team had noticed it because they were tracking; it's called load management, and they're like, 'Hey, your body is just not recovering how it should be.'"

A number of doctor visits and tests led them to discover that the inflammatory markers in his blood were "through the roof." But the solution—a complete diet overhaul—hit a snag when Meyers struggled to find a snack bar option that satisfied both his nutritional needs and what Elle calls "his very high taste expectation."

So she got in the kitchen. One batch made expressly for Meyers transformed into LEVEL, a direct-to-consumer company with four employees and endless growing potential, a situation that still leaves Elle in awe. "I think what's extremely humbling now is receiving messages from people whose lives are very, very impacted by it," she reasoned. "Like, 'Hey, my significant other is going through chemo. He won't eat anything other than this flavor of bar.' I have goosebumps."

Not everyone would sign on to have their spouse as a coworker, but for Elle the transition from partner to business partner was pretty natural. "So before we started LEVEL, we had a deal. I handled everything off the court and he handled everything on the court," she noted. "I'm saying anything: He wanted a basketball camp to come together, okay cool. I was gonna build the website, get the registration forms." And, if she's being honest, "working in that capacity was way harder as an individual trying to have your own identity."

So when LEVEL shifted from just her in the kitchen trying to give Meyers a dairy-free protein boost to a full-on business, it was actually quite easy for her to figure out what roles they'd play. "I understand kind of what he is able to give time-wise, energy-wise, etc. And he's really good at decision making, where I'm a processor," Elle explained of Meyers, also her cohost on their Pivot Point podcast. "So, you know, if I need some final gut reaction, 'Hey here, here's x y and z,' he's very good at saying, 'You know I really think this is the strongest approach.'"

The bubble may have burst their fifth anniversary plans, but the duo still found a way to acknowledge the August day. "We did a FaceTime dinner," she shared. "I Postmated some sushi over. But he made me feel super special on that day, even from a distance." 

Asked if they intend to attempt a do-over post-bubble, she cracked, "I don't know…when's the next season start?" Which, fair play. There's always next year…

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