Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang acknowledged Friday in a videoconference chat with media that while he’d be “thrilled” if the NBA season were to resume, the process of getting there is going to be tough.
With the Jazz having opened up their Zions Bank Basketball Campus practice facility on Monday for individual, voluntary player workouts, Niang said he has been excited to be in the building every day since. However, the safety protocols in place to protect everyone from the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic have taken some of the joy away from even that.
“The practice facility, the way I looked at it before, was kind of like a safe haven — you could act the way you wanted to, you could talk the way you wanted to, it was just a place where you could be carefree and be yourself; nobody was really watching and cameras weren't really on you,” Niang said. “And it's tough now, where you don't feel as safe when you look across and your trainer is wearing a mask and gloves, and you have a mask on, and you're constantly having to sanitize.”
That said, he added — in typically high-spirited fashion — that simply having access to a real weight room and basketball court in order to do his individual workouts makes it more than worth it.
“You're kind of just happy to get in a place that has gym equipment and a basketball hoop — better than my guest bedroom that has 25-pound dumbbells and a stationary bike,” he added.
And being happy right now is hardly a throwaway notion.
Since the season was shut down on March 11 following the revelation of Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19, Niang conceded that the hiatus has been “really tough for a lot of us” mentally.
Having basketball — which is obviously an outsized component of their existence — taken away has been tough enough. Having to limit their in-person interactions with one another, let alone being restricted from going out in public and doing everyday activities, has made it even worse.
“Basketball was shut down, and our world was shut down, so realistically, most of us kind of felt mentally trapped,” Niang explained. “We didn't do what we wanted to, we weren't able to do what we love, and we weren't able to take a step away from that and live a normal life. And that was tough for a lot of us. Mentally — I'm not going to lie to you — that was really hard on me.”
And so, he’s been trying to keep busy with other distractions. He’s on his third go-round of binge-watching “Entourage.” He also has been watching “Narcos” and “Ozark.” Coach Quin Snyder, he said, has “sent us books — lots of books, more than I've probably ever read in my life.”
He’s also been enjoying putting together his “Drive & Dish” podcast, even if he didn’t fully appreciate beforehand the amount of research necessary to being able to put together some good questions and carry on a decent conversation. Still, it’s been an enjoyable enough diversion that he “could definitely see myself doing something like this in the future.
“I have a lot of fun doing it,” he added. “It's kind of just been something to keep me busy around the house because, you know, if eating was keeping me busy for any longer, I think I'd be out of a job.”
Speaking of which, he’s very much looking forward to returning to his job.
Though he gave the obvious caveat that health and safety need to be the priority, Niang said that “If we can find a way and an avenue to play and not put people at danger, then I think all of us are for playing and want to play.”
In fact, he added, he thinks that’s a pretty unanimous sentiment among his fellow players.
“I can promise you everybody — well, at least everybody that I've talked to that is in the playoffs or in the playoff hunt — wants to play and finish the season,” Niang said. “I don't think anybody wants to finish a season not having a champion, not having played the full amount of games or even the playoffs. All of us are competitors and all of us want to get out there and play. So I don't think you'll find anybody saying that they don't want to play.”
Still, while he acknowledged that hearing the various ideas for returning to action and the associated timelines involved with them have given he and others something to look forward to, he’s not about to get ahead of himself.
“Right now, you’re just kind of living in the present,” Niang said, “because I’ve tried to live in the future for the last two months and I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to figure out what’s going to happen.”