By Davin Whatley
March 11 – As I sit on my couch, I am on my phone texting a friend about the news that’s being discussed on the TV in front of me. The NBA has suspended its season after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19. A sort of shock set over me as the magnitude of what was happening sunk in. In my seven years as an NBA fan, I had never seen a season suspended. Before NTCC decided to move all the classes online, before the church I attend decided to move our services out into the parking lot so we could worship in our cars, before a stay-home order was put in place in Titus County, the NBA suspended its season. This was the first thing the coronavirus had significantly changed in my life. Although the halt of the sports’ world as we know it is not the most pressing problem in the pandemic, both playing sports and watching them is a big part of many Americans’ lives. I know it’s been a big part of mine.
I’ve been a Dallas Mavericks fan since the sixth grade. I remember all of the franchise’s iconic moments over the past seven years, and it still stings that I started watching two years after they won the only championship in franchise history. I watched Dirk Nowitzki shoot fadeaways night after night and I would wear his jersey to school (even though most everyone else only wore the jerseys of Lebron James or Steph Curry). I’ve been to games over the years rooting for my team. I was once lucky enough to sit courtside, which was an experience I’ll never forget. Although my seat was eleven rows from the court, I came into contact with a fan who said I could sit with him courtside for a half. It was one of the best nights of my life. To this day, I enjoy telling anyone who asks me about it about how Wesley Matthews dove into my legs trying to save a loose ball, spilling my Coke in the process.
On March 11, I had been watching the Mavs take on the Denver Nuggets on ESPN just like I would any other game. But as the news of players getting the virus broke from Oklahoma City and the news came out that the NBA would be suspending the season for an indefinite amount of time, attention was drawn away from the game to the circumstances that would soon take place. The league had been considering its options amidst the growing pandemic, for example playing the games without fans present. But after some of its players came down with the virus it was apparent what they had to do. As they say the rest is history, and now we have gone more than a month without NBA action. The playoffs were scheduled to start April 18. Amidst this unprecedented situation, fans and players alike are trying to isolate themselves for the safety of our fellow Americans. NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum have admitted that they haven’t even been able to practice shooting as they don’t have a goal at their house.
Safe to say, 2020 has been a hard year for many NBA fans. Even before the coronavirus, NBA legend and now Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in January. The icon’s death affected millions, as he had meant a lot for the players and celebrities who knew him. Flocks of fans who adored him, who had watched him win championships throughout his career, gathered at memorials for him. Kobe was a key part of the next generation of basketball. For the basketball players who grew up in the 2000s and saw the end of his career throughout the mid-2010s, a piece of many’s childhood and love of basketball was gone.
Regarding the 2019-20 season, for the first time in five years, the Golden State Warriors were not going to go to the championship. Many teams felt they had a chance to contend for the title now that the Warriors had been slammed with injuries and the loss of key players. From a competition standpoint, this year offered the most teams the realistic chance to win a championship since before the Golden State dynasty. Now, it is a reasonable fear that this season might not return and become lost to the pandemic.
So it seems that 2020 has offered the NBA, its players and its fans a big, fat punch to the gut. The league and its fans have seen things happen that most never thought would happen. To me, Kobe was invincible. After his career, he made it a point to stay in shape and be relevant in the basketball industry (through his brand and his presence at basketball events) for the next forty years at least. If anyone died young it wouldn’t be Kobe. He shot free throws with a torn tendon in his leg and he constantly exemplified his trademark “Mamba Mentality”. On top of that, the league itself has been put on hold, something that just did not happen (for anything besides a player’s strike). What good could come out of this season?
As a fan, without the sports I enjoy watching so much, the hiatus does in fact force me to do a few things the normal NBA schedule doesn’t. The first thing the NBA hiatus forces fans to do is reminisce. Although sports fans may joke about not wanting to watch reruns of games past, getting a chance to think back and bathe in the nostalgia of some of the league’s best moments can bring back some really good memories. For some, it might be Lebron chasing down Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals as the Cavaliers came back to win the series after being down 3-1. If you watched it you might still get excited as you hear the sound of Mike Breen’s voice, “Iguodala to Curry, back to Iguodala, up for the layup. OH! BLOCKED BY JAMES!”
In the past ten years a fan’s favorite moment could be Kobe dropping 60 in his final game, Stephen Curry pulling up from just past halfcourt to beat the Thunder in overtime or Ray Allen hitting the shot to send the 2013 Finals to Game 7. As fans think further back there are plenty of moments to smile on, but for my generation those were some of the biggest moments in basketball.
The second thing the hiatus will make fans do is really appreciate the game when it comes back. Personally, I love sports and it hurts me to not be able to watch the games I look forward to. Binge-watching Netflix and playing Xbox with friends is fun, but I think the NBA fans would prefer the NBA Finals over the Joe Exotic-Carole Baskin rivalry. As ESPN broadcasts rerun after rerun, there comes a time when fans only crave the next big moment. As cool as my favorite memories are, I think I speak for most fans when I say I’m ready to experience the next decade of big moments after this coronavirus is all over. As America is ready for normal life to resume, the gigantic part of our society that is sports is just as excited.
Sports is a big part of life. It’s a key part of who many Americans are. Although we scream for the touchdowns, the buzzer-beaters and the homeruns it’s about more than that. We get to identify with our team, root for them with our friends and family, make memories as we can all look back and remember when. We get to talk about who we KNOW our favorite team should draft, or trade. We get to smack-talk our friends when we beat their team and wave it off when their team beats ours. These parts of life may not sound that interesting to someone who does not like sports and cannot relate. But for the NBA fans and other sports fans alike, it’s what we do.
For now, we wait. We wait until the day comes when we can go to our friend’s houses again and get within six feet of them and not be going against health codes. NBA fans wait until we see our icons and our favorite players lace them up and get on the hardwood for game action. Our country has tried to limit the loss of life to this disease as best as possible and many have been trying to do their part for their friends, families, neighbors and citizens. All in all, fans have gotten a chance to take a step back and remember that life is bigger than basketball for sure. But we will all surely appreciate it when it’s back.