Fresh off his victory in the nationally broadcast HORSE tournament featuring NBA players, WNBA players, and even a former star or two, Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley met with Salt Lake City-area reporters on Friday afternoon via a videoconference chat.
And when not dropping tidbits about the tourney (like, say, how having an indoor court was a definite advantage, as was being ambidextrous, as well as playing HORSE with his Jazz teammates almost every single day), Conley got to discussing the NBA’s present hiatus on account of the coronavirus pandemic, and said he felt a growing optimism that the 2019-20 season can eventually resume and culminate with a champion.
“We're feeling more and more confident that something could happen to where we are able to play again,” Conley said. “But there's still so many things that need to be worked out and so many things with COVID-19 itself that are unknown. We're hopeful. I think all of us are optimistic. And hopefully we'll get back to doing it.”
He said that meetings with the league and with the NBA Players’ Association, in which potential plans and timelines had been floated out, have fed many players’ sense that play might yet go on. That said, there is certainly nothing concrete at the moment, owing to the simple unknown variable of how widespread the pandemic remains.
Asked about the possibility of playing games without fans present, potentially in a neutral, sterile-as-possible environment, the guard acknowledged that’s not “the ideal situation,” but also conceded, “We all just want to play, at the end of the day.
“… Just getting a month away from the game and not knowing if you're going to have it again gives you a perspective on how much you love it and how much you just want to be out there and competing, regardless of the situation,” he added.
The team has stayed in regular contact, either with official meetings on the ZOOM videoconference app, or, more casually, through FaceTime on their phones. One assistant coach has been providing dribbling challenges and crowning a weekly winner. And coach Quin Snyder “gets to give us his spiel on different things he wants us to be doing or not doing, whatever it may be.”
Conley also addressed the rumored rift between Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, saying that if anything is there, he has no doubts that they’ll get things worked out.
“Nobody really has a perfect relationship — teammates, society, or whatever situation you’re in. Some of the best players in the world in our game ever have disagreed on things or had arguments or even fought in practices, whatever it may be, and they went on to win championships and be successful and be brothers for life,” he said.
“So between Donovan and Rudy, if they feel certain ways about each other — and I honestly don’t think that’s the case at all — they’re grown men and they handle it," he added. "And they go out there and they compete and they try to win, night in and night out. So you would never notice on our end. I feel comfortable knowing that we have two pros who go out there and work every day, care about the team, and are just going to do what they gotta do to win.”
Conley said he’s sometimes been going online to play the Call of Duty video game with Mitchell and Royce O’Neale, or having games of virtual monopoly with veteran big man Ed Davis, while also “trying to get Joe Ingles involved.”
Still, he’s had plenty to keep him busy beyond those diversions.
For starters, he and his wife Mary are expecting their third child, so he’s “been chasing the kids around — and it's exhausting.” He even joked that being on call for dad duty made him appreciate all the more the road trips and hotel rooms he’s been missing out on as a result of the league shutdown.
Meanwhile, he’s treated his workouts with the utmost seriousness. Having his own indoor court at his home in Columbus, Ohio, is a luxury, he recognizes, and an advantage he has tried not to waste during this supposed time off.
The challenge, he added, has been to stay engaged and try to fight off the feeling that they’re now in the offseason, to try and keep his body believing believing it’s still the regular season, “continuing to put your foot on the gas and try to stay working.
As for how long it will take players to get ramped back up should the season re-start, the point guard allowed that it will be different for every athlete, for every team, but he intends to be good to go right from the outset.
“There's a reason why I'm working like I'm working now, because I don't want to have to take a month to get ready,” Conley said. “Once we do get the green light, I'd rather be hitting the ground running and keep moving.”
Not that he expects it will be that easy.
After all, nothing about this situation has been easy.
Considering it’s been more than a month now since that wild night in Oklahoma City when Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19 brought the NBA to a sudden halt, Conley couldn’t help but reflect on how unreal it all seemed in that moment, and how very different everything is at this point.
“Looking back now, it shocks me how much we didn’t know about COVID, or what truly was going on. We knew from the news, but being on the front line, it was a little bit more surreal and more scary and more right in front of you. I think that’s why we take it even more serious than most people, because, once it’s right in front of you, you’re like, 'Oh my gosh, this is real, this is a definite threat to all of us,’” Conley said.
He added: "We didn’t think about it like that at the time. We were just like, ‘Oh, man — we take this test, hopefully everything’s good.’ You’re nervous and a little bit afraid and you didn’t know what to expect from it coming out. But just looking back on it, it was something that you would see in a movie. Like, how the NBA gets shut down just like that overnight, and we’re kind of the front edge of it.”