Why NBA players are in position to lead COVID-19 relief efforts

More than 915,000 people have watched Kevin Love, a five-time All-Star and an NBA champion, speak sincerely about the uncertainty Americans are facing with COVID-19 changing their lives.

‘What is going on? It’s Kevin Love here, just checking in. I know we are going through difficult times … “

He filmed the message in a few shots – the first few attempts took longer than five minutes – from his dining table, an American flag painted on weathered wood right behind him.

He eventually got it down to less than three minutes, focusing on three things. Be nice. Help if you can. Stay resilient.

“Our actions and our words speak volumes right now,” said Love.

Love began his charity endeavors by donating $ 100,000 to workers at his Cleveland home arena within a day of the indefinite suspension of the NBA season before March 11. Now it was this – a message addressed to basketball fans around the world.

NBA public announcements have been viewed more than 49 million times. Ten players, including Love, have pledged financial support to arena workers. Teams and players have donated over $ 38 million and nearly 1.5 million meals.

Love’s video continued on March 17, and by then the league was already well on its way to becoming an active member of the public health discourse, taking advantage of part of the NBA that is different from other major professional sports leagues .

“Not only are they happy that we can be more than just athletes and talk about things like this, but they’re also a driving force,” Love said in a telephone interview about the NBA on Saturday. “They want us to be that. That is what makes our competition powerful. “

The NBA has been active in the fight against COVID-19 since it was announced that Utah’s Ruby Gobert tested positive and worked to spread messages about hygiene, social distance, and mental well-being while their gyms and arenas are dark.

“Once we suspended the season, we immediately focused on what we could do to help,” said Kathy Behrens, NBA president of social responsibility and player programs. “… We are trying to focus as much of what we are doing … now directly on this problem.”

The NBA was not surprised by the COVID-19 outbreak. With two headquarters in China, workers were already working from home in late December, Behrens said. At least seven NBA players – past and present – recorded PSAs for China and Wuhan, the original epicenter of the new corona virus.

One night after the league suspended the season, “Inside the NBA” – the beloved and irreverent pregame and postgame show on TNT – didn’t have to strained to turn the show into a public health forum, with Dr. Sanjay Gupta who answered questions from Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal as if he were an All-Star guard rather than a neurosurgeon.

The NBA had stars explain to fans about the importance of hand washing before shifting the messages to self-distance, generosity, and social well-being. Thirteen current players – Love, Gobert, Victor Oladipo, Jayson Tatum, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Dwight Powell, Pau Gasol, Jamal Murray, Al Horford and Tacko Fall – have video messages at the bottom of a coronavirus information sheet on the NBA web page (the top link on NBA.com). At least six others have taken part in PSAs.

Community player involvement is not new. The league formed NBA Cares in 2005 with the aim of generating 1 million hours of community service. NBA players are contractually required to participate in a minimum number of community events each season.

While some of those gigs require more punches than others, Behrens said the response to the COVID-19 pandemic was organic.

“It’s super satisfying. But honestly, it’s not surprising. We’ve heard guys say,” What do you want me to do? “” What can I do? “” Behrens said. “… I’m calling Joel Embiid and tell him he should give $ 500,000 to support your community. These guys understand the obligation and the responsibility they have. ‘

Behrens said Love, Young and Stephen Curry were among those who responded. She also praised Mitchell, who, like Gobert, tested positive for the virus. Mitchell appeared on “Good Morning America” ​​to talk about his asymptomatic experience.

“He was incredible,” said Behrens. “He raised his hand that first weekend.”

Curry, a two-time MVP, organized one of the clearest, well-organized discussions of COVID-19 with Dr. Anthony Fauci on Instagram – an event where even former President Barack Obama commented.

This is not the first time that the NBA has come into the midst of a major public health problem and has led the global conversation decisively. On November 7, 1991, NBA Commissioner David Stern was sitting to the left of Magic Johnson when the Lakers star announced that he had contracted HIV. And it was Stern who fought pushback from across the league to include Johnson in that season’s All-Star Game.

Johnson praised Stern, who died in January, and the NBA during a memorial for taking away myths about HIV / AIDS and raising awareness. Behrens also praised her former boss that day, and now she can’t help but see similarities in the NBA’s mission.

“David always talked about what that platform could mean, that it could literally save lives outside of Magic. That’s always who we are. And (current Commissioner Adam Silver), he’s been all around me to make sure to get all these PSAs, use our global message, create these ways of engaging people.

“… It’s a playbook we’ve unfortunately used before.”

And it has become part of the league’s lifeblood.

In 2018, Love wrote a first-person story for ‘The Players Tribune’ about his struggles with anxiety, becoming an advocate for mental health awareness inside and outside the NBA. Hear a player talk about things other than basketball? It is part of the life of the NBA, be it a mental illness, the relationship of the league with China, gun violence, or criminal justice reforms.

“We all feel part of that fear and stress and the unknown – at least that’s what really turns me on and it’s really scary,” Love said of dealing with COVID-19. “Daily with this thing, turning on the news and seeing the new reports and the numbers … it’s really a strange time to navigate things. But the community aspect, helping others and random kind acts – if you can do it, that is absolutely what makes me and many people feel better.

“It’s a common enemy. It’s a sense of unity. Nothing unites us as a common enemy. I feel selfish, it’s a way of therapy for me.”

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