Mike Conley is heading to Orlando, Fla., with the Utah Jazz. He wants to be there for his teammates, he wants the chance to compete for an NBA championship.
And yet, his decision to make the trip to Florida for the league’s July 30 restart was about as far from automatic as it gets, considering he’ll be leaving behind his two children, as well as his pregnant wife, Mary, who is due to give birth on Aug. 27, when the Jazz will be among the teams sequestered within the Disney World campus bubble.
“‘Yeah, it was tough,” Conley explained Wednesday morning in a Zoom call with local media. “I’m gonna be in a bubble, but yet if I leave to go see my baby born, I’m gonna be quarantined on the way back in, and possibly have to miss a game or whatever the situation is that we’ll currently be in. There’s just a lot of things that go into play.
“But ultimately, my wife understands how much this game means and how much just being able to participate and play for championship means,” he added. “And we have an understanding that I’ll be able to see her and I’ll be able to, at some point, hopefully be able to be back for the baby and all that stuff. So as long as all that was answered, and the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted on that situation, I was more and more comfortable going, knowing that I’d be able to be back with them at some point.”
Teammate Joe Ingles can certainly relate.
Months ago, when there was no return to action in sight and the campus bubble was merely a theoretical possibility rather than an imminent occurrence, the Australian noted that he would have a difficult time agreeing to participate in such a scenario, given that he’d be leaving his wife Renae and 4-year-old twins Jacob and Milla behind for the longest stretch they’ve ever been apart.
Renae’s pregnancy with their third child became yet another reason at that time for Ingles to skip any potential return.
“We really didn’t know anything. [COVID-19] was a pretty new thing,” Ingles explained Wednesday in a separate Zoom call with reporters. “And obviously for me, and — which I couldn’t say back then, as well — but with Renae being pregnant, and with my son Jacob with the autism and his his immune system being kind of compromised. … It was just a scary time for everybody, and adding those things on top of that, there was there was no way at that point I would have [returned]. If they said we will come back in two weeks’ time, there would be no way I would have gone.”
Now, though, with a better understanding of what the coronavirus pandemic entails, Ingles’ reluctance has waned — especially with Renae’s encouragement for him to join his teammates — though he predicts he’ll be “grumpy” when he misses the twins’ birthday.
“She was probably a lot more confident in me playing than I was myself,” Ingles explained. “… I guess she was probably adamant that I was gonna play. I try to keep it as real as possible and [was] keeping the option of not playing open. Especially at the start of it with so much unknown about it, I wasn’t going to just dive into it. … At that point, I wouldn’t have cared anything about basketball; it was about my family, my children. Yeah, at the start, there was obviously big concerns, and over time, we’ve seen a lot about how individuals can really protect yourself if you if you’re smart about it.”
That philosophy, however, also points out the potential pitfalls of being in a semi-closed environment with hundreds of other players, coaches, support staff, front-office executives, referees, league personnel, et cetera — to say nothing of the Disney World employees who will be allowed into the campus to work.
As careful as Conley and Ingles might be, as stridently as they adhere to the myriad protocols in place, their safety is not altogether up to them.
“I think it’s tough when you’re relying on, obviously, not just yourself to be smart about things, but you’re relying on so many other people,” Ingles said. “Not that I don’t trust everyone, but a lot of it is out of my control.
“… I still don’t know how much of a bubble it is,” he added. “I think there’s a few holes poked in the bubble.”
He’s hardly alone in that regard.
Conley noted that in recent interactions among the players, myriad worries about the environment they’ll be heading to come July 7 have cropped up — especially given the troublesome outbreak currently escalating in Florida right now.
“I think we’ve had probably a Zoom call a week or a meeting a week just talking about updates on the current situation in Florida, and guys will pose questions and their reservations on the situation as it develops,” he said. “And obviously we don’t want to go down there if it’s not safe. And the NBA has done everything they can to make it as as zip-tight as possible for us to be able to compete at a high level and not worry about it. But we do understand it’s still a lot of unknowns.”
Given all those unknowns, while Ingles certainly is more confident about the situation now than he was a few months ago, there remains considerable unease.
“I mean, probably still not 100% comfortable or anything. I don’t really think anyone would be 100%,” Ingles said. “I don’t know. … We’ve had a lot of meetings, a lot of talks, and they’ve filled us in. We had one yesterday with the NBA, that was pretty informative, just giving us a bit more information on how things will work. To say that I’m completely comfortable, I mean, I’m definitely not, but I’m going to obviously put myself in a position to be as safe as possible.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time in my room with my coffee machine and get to know it very well.”