From Kobe and Gigi Bryant’s Death to Coronavirus, NBA Stars Lead By Showing Their Humanity.

Kobe Bryant once said, “Everything negative – pressure, challenges – are all an opportunity for me to rise.” To say that 2020, so far, has been filled with pressure and challenges would be an understatement. In only three months, we — as a world and as a country — have been faced with an infinite amount of unprecedented problems. However, as Michael Jordan said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

NBA players like Kobe and Jordan, who were and are not perfect, have always inspired us that if we worked hard, we could achieve anything. NBA players who have had to mourn the death of one of their most celebrated and the probable end to their season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – that occurred abruptly due to one of their own Rudy Gobert testing positive – one of the first in the country – have stepped up to aid, inform and heal our nation.

First was Kobe Bryant’s death. Bryant, along with his daughter Gigi and seven others, died in a helicopter crash. For so many, it was unfathomable and incredibly hard to wrap their minds around. Much like Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson verse, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you,” we all turned our ‘lonely eyes’ to NBA stars like LeBron James to make some sense of it all. We needed Bill Russel, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Steph Curry, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and so many more to help us heal. And they did. Every team and every player had special tributes to Bryant’s career. They honored him and his legacy in a way that brought us all together and kept the game going. They provided that necessary comfort, that everything was going to be okay.

Then on March 11th, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and set in motion the suspension of the NBA – and then every other sport. Since then, players on the Pistons, Lakers, 76ers, Nuggets, Celtics, and Nets have all tested positive for the novel Coronavirus. The 2019-2020 NBA season that had already felt off, because of Kobe’s death, came to a screeching halt and may never resume. However, NBA players stepped up. Like they have so many times before. NBA stars, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson (a rookie), and Blake Griffin publicly announced that they were donating thousands of dollars to employees missing out on pay as the season was indefinitely suspected. 

 

“It’s bigger than basketball! And during this tough time I want to help the people that make my life, my family’s lives and my teammates lives easier. Me and my family pledge to donate $100,000 to the Fiserv Forum staff. We can get through this together!” tweeted Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks forward.

 

“These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization,” Williamson’s posted on Instagram.  “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.”

As more and more players stepped up, owners and coaches followed. The key here is the owners followed the players and they and started donating to relief for arena employees — most of whom work hourly and only get paid if there is a game. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced, “I reached out to the folks at the arena and our folks at the Mavs to find out what it would cost to support, financially support, people who aren’t going to be able to come to work. They get paid by the hour, and this was their source of income. So, we’ll do some things there. We may ask them to go do some volunteer work in exchange, but we’ve already started the process of having a program in place. I don’t have any details to give, but it’s certainly something that’s important to me.” They also started helping states find and locate medical supplies to help their communities. 

 

Many of these players haven’t stopped and have devoted a lot of their time to educating the public. Many have taken to their social media to both educate the public and also calm the public down. Steph Curry today joined NIH director Dr. Anthony Fauci on an Instagram Live chat about facts and science and what Curry’s followers can do — stay home. Fauci told Curry the US ‘can start thinking about getting back to normal when the pandemic curve falls.”

LeBron James and his family have taken to TikTok and Instagram to bring some levity to what is going on and highlight the importance of family and being together. He is not alone. NBA players are just like us, they are staying home have some cabin fever and taking to social media to communicate with their fans. They have all become Joe DiMaggio to our Paul Simon.

NBA players always have deserved a tremendous amount of respect for shining light on issues such as criminal justice reform, race, gun violence, and the importance of giving back to our communities. However, the past three months feel different, and they have stepped up, led, and provided much-needed comfort during these difficult times. 

As Magic Johnson said, “Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.” We should ask not what NBA stars can do for us, but what we can do to help them lead.