Myles Turner once was among those NBA players openly hesitant to resume the season. Your outlook tends to change when you witness something rather than just read about it.
Turner's father, David, contracted the COVID-19 virus and was quarantined in a bedroom in the family home in Dallas for about 10 days. He's doing well now according to Myles, but the episode had an obvious impact on his feelings toward going back to basketball when the number of cases of infected people continues to rise.
Turner moved back into his parents' house when he returned to Texas after the season was put on hold. His father hadn't been feeling well and was discovered to have the virus the second time he was tested.
"I saw it firsthand and how it affected my family and I couldn't imagine how it's affected other families," Turner said Friday during a Zoom call with media members. "I definitely wasn't a big proponent of playing at first. I still have questions now, but most of the questions have been answered."
Turner also was struck by the death of Jacqueline Towns, the mother of Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, in April. Turner and Towns came out of high school the same year and became casually acquainted with one another and their extended families from participating in the same AAU events.
"That really impacted my family," Turner said.
"He's close to his family and I'm close to mine. If I would have lost my father to this virus, I couldn't guarantee I'd be sitting here talking to you right now."
Turner was doing so, however, because most of his fears about playing amid a pandemic were alleviated after learning how the NBA planned to attempt to keep the players safe. And, his competitive juices began flowing again.
"This is what I do for a living," he said. "It gives me my escape at a time like this. I'm trying to win a championship as well. From that standpoint, I'm all in."
Turner's challenge will be to regain the momentum he had when play was halted. He had averaged 15.7 points and 9.7 rebounds over the three games prior to stoppage, along with 3.7 blocks. After managing just five double-figure rebounding games in his first 47 appearances, he had four in the next eight. His chemistry with Domantas Sabonis also seemed to be improving, one of the reasons the Pacers had won eight of their previous 11 games.
Turner said he built a makeshift gymnasium in the family garage during the lockdown, driving as far as Waco to gather equipment, and ran at a nearby high school track and through his parents' neighborhood. He was able to gain access to a gymnasium four or five weeks ago to continue basketball-related workouts.
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The Pacers, like all NBA teams, are having mandatory workouts until they go to Orlando on July 9, but are limited in the number of players they can have in the practice facility at the same time and in their contact with coaches. Turner believes his teammates have done a good job of maintaining a reasonable level of conditioning — "they pass the eye test" — but won't know until full scale five-on-five practices can be conducted in Orlando.
The greater challenge, however, could be adapting to the strict quarantine and testing conditions in Orlando, and playing games with no fans present.
"You're separated from the world in a sense," Turner said. "We're used to traveling, we're used to playing in front of big crowds. That's going to be another hurdle we have to get over. I think it's going to be a mental grind more than anything."
Turner has been one of the more outspoken Pacers regarding social injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody on May 25. He plans to continue to push for reforms and believes basketball can provide a platform for doing so. It also can provide a sense of relief.
"Basketball will be an escape for me — something where I can go out there and not worry about what's going on in the world," he said. "Once I'm out in the world, that's when I can use my platform to rally to make change. As far as basketball itself, I play for the love of the game and the purity of the game. That's the clarity I came to. I was at ease with the decision (to play in Orlando) from that standpoint, but I'm definitely not satisfied with the 'changes' that are being made. There's definitely a lot of work to do in that area."
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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