Two weeks ago, the Pistons had a nondescript loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in what seemed — at the time, at least — to be just some dwindling grains of sand in the hourglass of a lost season. It was their 11th loss in the previous 12 games, dropping them to the fifth-worst record in the league.
Ho, hum. Five weeks left until the offseason.
In the postgame locker room, I found Christian Wood, one of the Pistons’ few bright spots this season, and sat next to him. I asked Wood whether he thought his best season was worthy of consideration for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and whether it was lost in the Pistons’ losses.
“I just want to help us win,” Wood answered.
That was the night before the NBA imposed distancing rules between players and media. I spent Monday in New York before taking a tense train ride — not touching anything in the train station and sanitizing all around my seat on the way — to Philadelphia for Wednesday’s game.
The Pistons lost to the Sixers and I had finished writing the game story.
That’s when everything stopped.
The NBA suspended the season after Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. The Pistons had played the Jazz the previous Saturday. Were any of the Pistons affected?
I felt fine and I hadn’t had any direct contact with any of the Jazz players, so I thought I was OK. That night, I called my wife to update her on what was going on, wondering if I should fly home the next morning or just stay in Philadelphia.
I called the Pennsylvania Department of Health and a nearby hospital to see how a person with secondary contact should proceed. The nurse said it would take days to get my results back, so I should just fly home, as long as I wasn’t presenting with symptoms.
The next morning, I called my doctor and the Michigan Department of Health and again got the same answers, so I took the flight home. I’ve flown hundreds of times over the past few years, but I might have been most nervous on this one, wondering if I was asymptomatic but contagious — or if others on the flight were.
When I landed, I called my doctor again, checking to see if I could get a test before I drove home. Again, same answer: no symptoms, no test.
The next couple of days helped me to calm down a little. That is, until Saturday night, when the news broke that Wood had tested positive. My worlds collided again: I had had direct contact with him less than a week prior.
My mind raced.
There’s a journalistic instinct to write a breaking story about a Pistons player testing positive; there’s a familial responsibility of making sure my family would be OK. I tried calling my doctor again or a hospital to see whether I could get tested that night.
Still the same response: no symptoms, no test. However, I was advised to self-quarantine for two weeks from the last direct contact.
My daughter has asthma-related issues, so her underlying conditions became my primary concern. I isolated myself in another bedroom, as my older son is away at college and distanced from my wife and two younger children.
Today, that isolation ends, with no symptoms and no issues. I can hug my kids again and the distancing rule is gone in our household. Luckily, I have a job where I can work remotely — and there have been things to write about during the sports hiatus; others aren’t so lucky.
I binged COVID-19 news on CNN and other outlets and found new MVP candidates in Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and New York governor Andrew Cuomo. There are many more who have looked out for their neighbors and others locally to make sure they’re OK.
I’ve watched at least a dozen movies and documentaries and spent quality family time together. I’ve glanced from the window as deer have wandered through the yard and a few neighbors have taken short walks.
The world is a different place, but it’s still very much the same. What has changed is what we’re doing to occupy our time. Instead of running around in a frenzy, slowing down has been therapeutic and helpful to put things in perspective, and helping to stay in touch with people — virtually, at least.
It’s been a tough two weeks and I’ve found ways to occupy my time without live sports, including creating brackets of the best hip-hop and rap albums of the 1990s.
I even tuned in to a live stream by DJ D-Nice on Saturday that had more than 100,000 viewers at one time — a list that included Michelle Obama, Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson, Ellen DeGeneres and Bernie Sanders.
These are different times. People have gone from worrying about spring break, hand sanitizer and toilet paper to focusing on their jobs, their families and the future.
We’ll get back to normal eventually. It’ll be a new normal and sports will find its niche again. There are other more important things to focus on in the interim.