The Utah Jazz point guard speaks to OkayAfrica about the suspended NBA season, the backlash against teammate Rudy Gobert and what we can do as fans.
A week ago the NBA planned to keep the season going during the COVID-19 outbreak by hosting games in empty stadiums, but everything changed once Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. While news of Gobert testing positive was big enough on its own to lead to the suspension of the NBA season, it was his attempt to joke about the outbreak that drew tremendous public backlash.
COVID-19 has become a global health emergency in a matter of weeks with over 180 000 cases and at least 6500 deaths. Cancellations of public gatherings, strict hygiene practices and social distancing have become the daily reality many of us are facing.
In a now viral video, Gobert deliberately touches all the microphones and recorders at a press conference, potentially placing all those present at risk of infection. He tested positive for coronavirus shortly after the incident.
"Rudy is a great guy," insists his teammate, the Congolese-born Emmanuel Mudiay who we reached by phone. "He was just trying to be funny and joke around" he continues adding that, "He didn't know he had it at the time. Now he knows that it was something serious."
Soon after Gobert tested positive, teammate Donovan Mitchell tested positive for coronavirus as well—something which subsequently created a rift within the team according to reports by US publications.
Under public scrutiny, the NBA then provided 58 test kits to the Utah Jazz, a move which stirred considerable controversy as a result of an existing shortage of coronavirus test kits in the country. However, an Oklahoma State Department of Health official told the media that the decision to provide the NBA with the test kits had been a "public health" one, in an effort to protect all those who had been in contact with Gobert since he tested positive, and not the result of any special treatment.
Describing the atmosphere inside the NBA right now, Mudiay says, "People want to play, but we know that it's bigger than basketball at this point." He continues, "My team, everybody actually, is just taking precaution and doing everything that they need to do."
While Mudiay accepts that the government and Trump's current administration can do a lot better to protect Americans, he also believes that they're doing the best they can with the current resources available to them.
"Things are happening so fast and no one's prepared for it," he says. "I think everybody's just making decisions on the fly. But it's so hard to be in anybody's position at this point because you just don't know how to handle it because we don't have too much information."
He goes on to urge everyone to do their own bit to protect themselves and their wellbeing saying, "You got to take responsibility as individuals, so research yourself on it instead of waiting for what the government's gonna do."
While it's a difficult time for many of us, not least zealous NBA fans who are now stuck watching reruns from previous seasons, Mudiay has a few words of encouragement. "This is a life threatening thing. It's not about basketball at this point. It's about life. Life's not gonna end though. It's gonna be back to normal."