Being 7,600 miles away from the comfort of home and the security of family and friends could be a strain on anyone. Even more so during a global pandemic that hit very close to Oklahoma City in a very public way.
When the NBA’s 2019-20 season came to a halt, suddenly and shockingly, on March 11, the Thunder was front and center in announcing to the NBA and the world that COVID-19 was real, serious and required shutdowns of major events.
Steven Adams would have likely been the first player to touch the ball against the Utah Jazz. After all, he usually does win the tip to start each game. Once it was clear that the NBA was going to be on hiatus for an extended period of time, Adams safely made his way across the Pacific Ocean, and the equator, and the international date line, back to his native country.
“It’s everyone’s first instinct when there’s a world crisis going on that you want to be near family,” said Adams, poignantly, before returning to his normal jovial spirits.
“It was relaxing. mate. I was on the farm doing farm work, got a bit of a farmer’s tan going on for a little bit,” he added. “The cows are doing good.”
Adams was mostly either on the aforementioned farm outside of Tauranga or in Wellington and was under mandatory physical distancing measures and safety precautions on public places. He had to self-isolate for 14 days upon arriving back in New Zealand, which at that point was only allowing New Zealand residents into the country. With four Alert Response levels, New Zealand, a country with a population of around 4.9 million people, recorded just 1,482 total confirmed cases and by June 8 had no active cases within the country’s borders, according to 1 News.
“We have a really good healthcare system,” Adams said. “For the most part, New Zealanders are quite compliant with rules. Collectively, all the Kiwis did a good job with it ... We’re just a smaller country.”
In fact, the COVID cases dwindled so low that, according to Adams, 60,000 people in New Zealand’s capital city of Auckland attended a protest to support similar ones going on in the United States that brought awareness to social injustice.
While some players who remained in the United States or were in other countries couldn’t get into a gym let alone play five-on-five, Adams was able to get in a handful of pickup basketball games to try and stay sharp. With so much of his game reliant on screening, boxing out and playing with physicality, it’ll take time for Adams to get back into a flow. Aside from the brief pickup games, most of his work came outside with the livestock.
“I was boxing out cows,” Adams quipped.
The Thunder and all other NBA teams staying physically distanced during workouts in their practice facilities until it’s time to head to Orlando. Once they get there it’ll be all about building that on-court cohesion that led to a 40-24 regular season record.
“People can just show up and play, but together as a team and execution of the right timing and plays and coverages and stuff, that a whole different story,” Adams said. “It’s not really to do with conditioning and stuff like that, it’s more to do with, again your team chemistry and how well you flow together as a team.”
“The team that gets it on quick are the ones that come out strong. I’m betting on our team,” added Adams. “Our team’s done relatively well with those sort of things, holding together.” Being able to pick right back up where the Thunder left off is easier said than done. The movement, the passing, the communication and the in-game discipline will all be essential once the games tip off, and hopefully the team can start to get those things in order once it hits the practice court at Walt Disney World Resort sometime next week. The i’s have been dotted and t’s have been crossed by NBA leadership and experts to ensure everything in Orlando goes as smoothly as possible once players arrive so they can get to work safely.
“Everyone that’s making his thing work has done a tremendous job of this,” Adams noted. “This is ridiculous what’s actually happening like they’re pulling it off. It’s a huge feat like it’s insane the amount of moving parts. It’s well played.”
All the players, including Adams, will have to get used to a new state of life, a lockdown similar to the one Adams experienced for his first two weeks in New Zealand, except with his teammates and 21 other teams full of competitors filling up nearby hotel rooms. With limited access to the outside world and an inability to be with family until the playoffs, Adams knows that the Orlando bubble will feel as far away from his normal life in OKC as it feels from his familiar and familial comforts in Wellington.
“This is just a whole different kettle of fish,” Adams said.