The NBA announced Monday that no players have tested positive for COVID-19 so far at Disney and that’s the purest evidence yet as to how the self-contained campus is working. With all the daily testing and health charting and security in place, this snow-globe is hermetically sealed, a protected haven of hope inside the virus-mad state of Florida.
This zero-positive is also the result of the deal everyone makes by being allowed inside: You follow the social distancing rules, get your test -- I almost forgot to get swabbed Monday and reached the testing office with minutes to spare before closing -- and do not even think about leaving and coming back. You step outside that front gate, you best keep walking.
That sounds perfectly fine. But what happens when personal tragedy strikes a family member or loved one at home? What then?
Zion Williamson, because he carries considerable value around here, was able to tend to an emergency but will be welcomed back and retested when he’s ready. Meanwhile, yours truly, because I’m merely an invited guest and cannot execute a 360-degree dunk, will not if such a need arises.
Those of us who make that Disney deal must keep fingers crossed that we don’t get an alarming phone call.
Well, the phone buzzed yesterday.
Best friend from high school died suddenly from heart failure. As you reach a certain age, these calls begin to increase along with the facial wrinkles. Lyndon Byrd and I ran on the track team together; his speed was certified, mine suspect. His dramatic come-from-behind anchor leg on the state champion sprint relay was made possible by my slow third leg.
I’m still numb from the news. I ache for his family while being annoyed at myself for procrastinating for years about paying a visit. And there’s this: I made that deal with Disney and therefore can’t fly to the funeral.
As an empty chair will represent me at the memorial, friends scattered around the country, reunited by grief, will bond inside the old neighborhood and swap fond stories of the departed. They will marvel at the man’s down-home demeanor, how he bailed on a good job to return to his family home to help his ailing parents, how he whipped a mouthy Eric Dickerson in a college 100-meter race, and how he never really changed in over four decades.
The irony of this job is how it has whisked me to Scotland and Australia, South Africa and Tokyo, Rome and Paris, but can’t get me to Pittsburgh to pay my last respects.
This setup in Orlando, unprecedented in sports, is the only way the 2019-20 season could possibly continue and survive. It involves the cooperation of a small army of players, coaches, referees, testers, therapists, doctors, ball boys, health officials, TV technicians and security personnel to give us basketball at its purist and safest.
The statistical proof says the coronavirus is having a hard time infiltrating the campus. So far, the NBA is winning big. A destructive virus can’t get in. This comes at a personal price for those on the inside, though: You can’t leave.
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