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The life of an NBA player looks a whole lot like everyone else’s right now. With the novel coronavirus suspending the league’s season and most of society at large, the nonstop and high-profile lifestyle of basketball’s best has transformed into quiet, social distancing days.
“It’s horrible,” Utah Jazz forward and former Iowa State star Georges Niang told the Ames Tribune last week. “It is no fun, to be honest with you.”
The biggest change for these players has been the simple lack of basketball in its most rudimentary form — gyms are closed, meaning even getting a few shots up isn’t feasible.
“I haven’t gone this long without being in a gym shooting since I was a kid,” Toronto Raptors guard and former Iowa State standout Matt Thomas told the Ames Tribune this week. “At the same time, there are bigger things going on in the world right now than basketball. Just got to take it one day at a time and hope this virus runs its course and affects the least amount of people as possible and we can get back to living our normal day-to-day lives.”
Both Niang and Thomas endured 14-day quarantines due to their interaction with other players who tested positive for COVID-19. It was that first positive test of Niang’s teammate, Rudy Gobert, that forced the league to shutter on March 11. The Raptors and Jazz had played just two days prior.
“Rudy tested positive and it was minutes later when the league got suspended,” Thomas said. “An hour after that, we got calls that we all needed to go to the hospital to get tested here in Toronto. Everyone from our travel party — media, coaches, players, everyone that was on that West Coast trip — obviously because we had direct exposure. We were also out in San Francisco and Sacramento, which is kind of a hotbed for the virus, too.
“So we all got tested that night and got the results a couple days later. Thankfully we were all negative.”
Spending quarantine days in isolation were both trying and an opportunity.
Niang is spending time watching World War II documentaries on Netflix, working out with equipment provided by the team and checking in with his teammates.
“It’s no fun,” he said. “We really took for granted our freedom, and don’t worry, I won’t do that any longer.”
For Thomas, it’s been a chance to play catch-up.
“I’ve never spent this much time in my apartment,” he said. “For me, I’m trying to make it into a positive, make the most of the situation. I have a hard time slowing down and shutting off, so it’s kind of like forced relaxation.
“I’ve done a lot of things that I’ve been meaning to do, but it’s just so hard to find time during the season — whether it be meditating more, reading a book, journaling, connecting with friends and family. I’ve been able to do that a lot. FaceTiming a lot of friends, catching up with people.”
Niang was averaging 13.3 minutes per game for the Jazz in his fourth season in the NBA after being taken in the second round of the 2016 draft. Thomas was averaging just under 10 minutes per game for the defending NBA champs in his rookie season after playing two years in Spain, a place now ravaged by the coronavirus.
“One of my buddies (in Spain) was telling me how helicopters were flying real low over the city,” Thomas said, “making sure everyone is in their homes and no one is in the streets.”
Thomas’ current situation is complicated by the fact that he’s international.
“I know a few of my teammates have gone home to be with their families in the States,” the Wisconsin native said. “I thought about going home but at the same time, I didn’t want to put myself or anyone else at risk by traveling right now. And just the thought of potentially having to quarantine two weeks there, then coming back to Canada, quarantining again — I’m pretty set here.”
Set and trying to stay ready for an NBA season that may never come given the virus that has changed so much over the entire globe.
“It’s a bit surreal that we’re living through this,” Thomas said. “This is like the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu that hit 100 years ago. This is what kids are going to be learning about in their textbooks in 30, 40, 50 years.
“Hopefully we’ll still be able to finish (the NBA season) in the spring or the summer, but there is so much uncertainty. It is hard. I want to play. I think everyone wants to play. Everyone wants to get back to their normal lives, but there are bigger issues right now than basketball. Just trying to stay positive and do my part, stay inside as much as possible.”