This opponent requires a team effort – then we can get back to dancing to the drumbeat of sports

Pistons huddle
Nothing unifies a community quite like the shared passion for sports, which serves as a diversion in the toughest times but now must play its role from the sidelines
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Before baseball’s Home Run Derby became a raging success and they tinkered with the All-Star break, there were only two days over the course of a calendar year when there wasn’t a sporting event of national consequence – the day before the All-Star game and the day after.

Sports has always been the diversion to take our minds off calamities. Did anything help soothe our battered national psyche after 9/11 more than baseball and football games resuming that month? Was there a more symbolic moment of America’s first wobbly steps to recovery than President Bush throwing out the first pitch during the 2001 World Series at a most iconic American symbol, Yankee Stadium?

That’s the best of sports, the ability to galvanize and inspire people from a rainbow of backgrounds in a common interest. When Pistons owner Tom Gores bought the franchise nearly nine years ago, he said his primary motivation was to use the power of the platform to inspire the communities – Detroit and beyond – where Pistons fans lived and worked.

For those fans – and tens of millions of Americans – sports dictate the rhythm of life, giving form to our weeks and structure to the four seasons. The NBA is not only a huge part of that but a transformative agent. No league has been more progressive than the NBA under first David Stern and now Adam Silver for promoting diversity and equality, no sport more in tune with popular culture than basketball.

But for the foreseeable future – and nobody really knows how long that might be – sports and the NBA will have to play its role from the sidelines. You’ve heard coaches laud players who lead by example? That’s sports now – leading by example because it can’t by any other means.

Everyday life has been disrupted – dramatically – creating a vacuum that gets filled by anxiety, frustration, fear and longing for normalcy. Sports isn’t there to serve its customary role as a unifying force, the modern-day village square that brings people together even when distance separates them.

Distance is going to separate us for a while now. There will be no roaring crowds at Little Caesars Arena as winter fades to spring, no virtual community of Pistons fans planning their days around the next tipoff.

But the quickest way to get back to that is to get COVID-19 under control – to flatten the curve of the disease’s spread by modifying behavior and exercising social distancing. And in that, the NBA again was a pioneer. When commissioner Silver decided minutes after learning of a positive test by one NBA player that the season would be suspended, it began a cascading reaction that reverberated across society.

Within 24 to 48 hours, every other major sports entity – the NHL and MLB, the NCAA, the PGA, high school sports – effectively followed suit, either suspending or outright canceling its crown jewels. Major cities called for limiting crowds or hours of operation and pre-emptively shut down schools. States followed suit and ordered sweeping shutdowns of businesses, including bars and restaurants, fitness centers and theaters.

Within that blink of an eye, America seemed profoundly changed. The NBA’s decisive action lit a fuse to change the perception that it was past time to get serious about what is clearly the most dangerous global public-health threat in a century. That’s what leadership looks like.

Despite today’s uncertainty, we know there will be a future after COVID-19. The resilience of the human spirit promises that we’ll emerge stronger than before, adapting our lifestyles to make a better future. Like all challenges that have faced humankind, we’ll adapt. Innovation will spark in education, commerce and consumption and change the way we think, behave and interact.

It’s disorienting to have sports and all the other guideposts of our lives suddenly removed, but the sooner we adhere to the best advice of experts and limit our exposure – and the risk to others – to the novel coronavirus, the sooner we can all get back to normalcy.

That takes the type of teamwork and selflessness required of building a winning organization. If a team is only as strong as its weakest link, so it is that the novel coronavirus won’t be vanquished without everyone playing a part.

The quicker we pull together for that mission, the sooner we’ll get back to enjoying the daily drumbeat of sports enriching our lives.


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