COVID-19 unexpectedly forced the NBA season to a screeching halt.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive, and the league and other sports leagues immediately shut down to protect players, coaches, employees and their fans’ health. The coronavirus’ specter continues its spread nationally and abroad, stressing hospitals, economies and communities to the brink.
Without basketball, NBA players and teams could simply sit on the sidelines waiting for this pandemic to play out from the comfort of their luxurious homes. But as they’ve done in so many other ways, many are stepping up into leadership roles both in word and deed.
Spreading the Wealth
The Coronavirus has disrupted millions of Americans’ jobs, with travel, food, hospitality and entertainment being the hardest hit industries. Business has dwindled as we stay hunkered down at our homes to slow the disease’s spread by lowering the infection curve, preventing our health care system from an ugly collapse.
This economic disruption is acutely felt by NBA teams’ arena employees who depended on the income generated from regular-season and playoff games. Most of these blue-collar workers (i.e. security, janitors, mascots, vendors, performers, ushers, etc.) rely on those wages to pay rent and keep food on the table.
Players and teams noticed this and stepped in to help soften that blow.
Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo became the first players to donate $100,000 to arena workers.
Shortly after, New Orleans Pelicans center Zion Williamson announced via Instagram he will pay for all Smoothie King Center workers impacted by the NBA stoppage.
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The people of New Orleans have been incredibly welcoming and supportive since I was Drafted by the Pels last June, and some of the most special people I have met are those who work at smoothie King Center. These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization. Unfortunately, many of them are still recovering from long term challenges created by Katrina, and now face the economic impact of the postponement of games because of the virus. My mother has always set an example for me about being respectful for others and being grateful for what we have, and so today I am pledging to cover the salaries for all of those Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days. This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis. This is an incredibly resilient city full of some of the most resilient people, but sometimes providing a little extra assistance can make things a little easier for the community.
Other NBA stars who pledged to help employees and their communities fight economic hardships include:
• Los Angeles Lakers power forward Anthony Davis (partnering up with Lineage Logistics to get 300 Staples Center employees jobs and match $250,000 to provide food to healthcare workers);
Orlando Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac is working with J.U.M.P. Ministries and Project Life, Inc., to provide food to Orlando-area school children in need Monday through Friday, getting an assist from various teammates like Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic in the process.
“Man, it’s amazing and I love it,’’ Isaac told John Denton of NBA.com of his teammates Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz, D.J. Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams and Al-Farouq Aminu also pitching in.
“Every single one of those guys are pillars, and that’s what we all want to be – pillars in our community because we’ve been so blessed. We have so much, and we want to help others and pour ourselves into other people.”
While seeing so many millionaire players step up has been heartening, it has also been good to watch All NBA teams (led by billionaire owners) pledge to help their arena staff and support personnel through the crisis.
Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban, Atlanta Hawks’ Tony Ressler and Chicago Bulls’ Jerry Reinsdorf set that trend early, though others such as Houston Rockets owner Tilman Ferttita and New York Knicks owner James Dolan were conspicuously slow and/or limited.
The Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers (with the Los Angeles Kings-created fund to help pay NBA and NHL Staples Center workers) and Toronto Raptors (with other Toronto-area professional sports teams) teamed up with their sports brethren to ensure workers’ were taken care of.
Other organizations such as the New Orleans Pelicans ($1.0 million Gayle Benson Community Assistance Fund) and Cuban reimbursing employees for food bought in Dallas-area restaurants are donating to the community.
NBA players are also using their wide influence via social media to communicate with their fans and the public about the importance of social distancing.
Superstar Steph Curry dropped a collaborative interview with Coronavirus Task Force’s Dr. Anthony Fauci to his 29.9 million Instagram followers.
The Golden State Warriors point guard gave Fauci a much-needed platform to dispel any misinformation young people may have about the coronavirus, either from ignorance, misleading news sites or even muddled presidential press conferences:
This is a simple gesture, but one Curry views as essential in helping stop the spread.
Lakers’ legend Magic Johnson emphasized social distancing and hand washing are needed to watch out for each other.
“Let’s look out for each other.”
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 16, 2020
Players who tested positive for the Coronavirus such as Gobert and Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart have shared their experiences with the disease while warning young people to take this unseen threat seriously.
I was tested 5 days ago and the results came back tonight, which were positive. Ive been self quarantined since the test, thank goodness. COVID-19 must be taken w the highest of seriousness. I know it’s a #1 priority for our nations health experts, & we must get more testing ASAP pic.twitter.com/xkijb9wlKV
— marcus smart (@smart_MS3) March 19, 2020
Other players shared some of their quarantine experiences. Chicago Bulls 2-guard Zach Lavine watched highlights from his human torch game.
Zach Lavine isn’t alone in viewing players’ highlights, as underrated retired players Andre Miller and Steve Francis trended on Twitter while so many of us were missing basketball and turning nostalgic.
Tape Never Lies JD!!
— Ethan Rouse (@EthanRouseeeee) March 30, 2020
Everyone has also seemed to love endearing videos of players going crazy while waiting for basketball to come back:
• Memphis Grizzlies’ rookie Ja Morant doing what we all did as kids:
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) March 16, 2020
• Giannis doing his best college-guy-playing-guitar-to-impress-the-ladies shtick:
• And Atlanta Hawks’ point god Trae Young reliving “Kobe,” the game of all our youths:
Marbury shows relationships bigger than basketball
The NBA took hits from trying to maintain its financial relationship with China earlier this year, but retired NBA player Stephon Marbury showed how that relationship still has its upsides.
This relationship will directly benefit hospital workers battling on the front lines to meet the growing numbers of patients in need of critical care, with the potential to save many lives.
“At the end of the day, I am from Brooklyn,” Marbury told the New York Post’s Rich Calder. “This is something that is close and dear to my heart as far as being able to help New York.
“I have family there in Coney Island, a lot of family … who are affected by this, so I know how important it is for people to have masks during this time.”
NBA not all about the money
While it’s true the NBA is big business—and the China controversy put that front and center last October—the league and its players know being good citizens by pitching in monetarily and through public awareness through their social media to slow the spread is more important at the moment.
Games are just that: Games. We all love the athleticism, entertainment and the tribalism we experience through following favorite teams and players through their seasonal journeys toward playoff glory. They provide escapes from tough days at work or school while creating connections with others through shared viewing experiences.
While the NBA is not like most of us who are immediately worried about the pandemic’s insidious effects draining our revenue streams and savings, its teams and players are not immune. The league is taking a financial hit at the moment, potentially losing $1 billion from Coronavirus. This adversely affects the 2020-21 salary cap and greatly impacts upcoming free agents’ future earning potentials.
Players and teams are not boohooing this unfortunate circumstance. They are eagerly showing that “NBA cares” isn’t just an empty slogan. It’s been put into practice helping workers and communities in these trying times.
We all love basketball, but we know and the NBA knows that the beloved ball can be picked back up when the time is right. When the lights are turned on, and players finally meet for that beautiful opening tipoff, remember these athletes didn’t just shut up and dribble as some fans or pundits want.
Bob Bajek is an award-winning investigative journalist and TBW staff writer who has extensive experience in news and sportswriting for various outlets including Bleacher Report, The Chicago Tribune and Pro Football Weekly. He firmly believes Drake spread the Gospel of Steph before his official coming… and fans need to forgive the Warriors after providing free tacos for four NBA Finals.