Utah Jazz reserve big man Tony Bradley is exceedingly polite and earnest, though his newfound loquaciousness unintentionally made him the target of mock, exasperated scorn on social media Monday afternoon after he revealed in a Zoom call with media that he put on some muscle during the NBA’s hiatus even though he “wasn’t trying to.”
“I’ve been getting that compliment from a lot of people as I’ve been walking around the [practice] facility,” Bradley said with a sheepish grin. “It wasn’t intended. … I guess the look is that I’ve ‘leaned up.’”
Yeah, buddy, we can all relate to having gotten accidentally leaner and more muscular these past few months.
As it turns out, both Bradley and fellow Jazz reserve Emmanuel Mudiay had plenty of compelling little insights into how their past few months have gone, as the Jazz wrapped up their pre-Orlando media sessions.
Perhaps the most singularly fascinating was listening to Mudiay recall what it was like being a footnote to history that fateful night of March 11 in Oklahoma City, when both he and Rudy Gobert were displaying symptoms of illness and wound up being tested for the coronavirus.
Gobert, of course, became the first player in the league to test positive for COVID-19, a result that put basketball and all other sports on the shelf. Mudiay, meanwhile, turned out to merely have the flu. Still, his vantage point to the chaos that ensued — especially when Donovan Mitchell tested positive the next day — was compelling.
“We’d kind of heard about the coronavirus, but we didn’t [really] know. And then, you know, it hit right at home,” Mudiay said. “It was a little different for me because I wasn’t at the [arena], I was [at the hotel] with Rudy — he was in his room, I was in my room. … But just seeing what was going down, it was definitely a little different, a little weird.
“I didn’t think that the league would shut down the way it did — I just thought it would shut down for probably like two weeks, three weeks and then start going again,” he added. “… I do remember that the next morning, I was there when everybody [else] got tested, and when Donovan had it, it kind of shocked all of us again. Obviously, we wasn’t too educated at the time with the whole virus, so we was all just trying to learn more about it, just hoping that Rudy was OK and Donovan was OK and that we wasn’t affected as well.”
In the months since, he’s been splitting his time between working out at his old high school gym in Dallas, and binge-watching TV shows like “Snowfall” and “Ozark” as well as “classic” movies such as “Coming to America” and … “Bad Boys II”? He’s also been coming to grips with the fact that his first-ever trip to the NBA playoffs won’t include any games in the notoriously crazy environs of Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“Obviously, it’s gonna be a little different. I wish that we could play in front of the Jazz fans. That’s kind of what I was excited about — just hearing how exciting is here when the playoffs start,” Mudiay said. “Yeah, it is my first time, but we’re gonna see how it goes. I think when we just start playing, the competitiveness is just going to come and kind of take over all of us.”
Bradley, meanwhile, when not getting inadvertently swole, took delight in teaching his pastor father how to use Facebook Live to minister to his parishioners once mass gatherings such as churchgoing became prohibited in the early weeks of the pandemic.
“He loves it,” Bradley said with a smile. “I think they’re back in church now, but he’s still doing his Facebook Live.”
The third-year center has been teaching himself a few new things, as well.
“I knew during this time I wanted to try and find new things to do — grow in different things. Just little hobbies that I don’t usually get a chance to do,” Bradley said. “… I wanted to work on things that I’m pretty much uncomfortable with.”
He got a chance to kill two birds with one stone, as it were, with his episode of the Jazz’s “Quarantine Cookbook” online video series.
In the various installments, players partner with team chef Anthony Zamora to bring their favorite meal to the masses. Bradley’s nearly 9 minutes of making a healthy shrimp alfredo saw the usually reticent and spotlight-avoidant big man get to show off both his cooking skills as well as a newfound comfort and confidence with being the center of attention.
“I kind of turned being in front of the camera into something I enjoy. It was natural,” Bradley said. “I really enjoyed cooking, especially in front of the camera, just showing my personality a little bit. It was fun.”
Perhaps his evolution in embracing having some attention directed his way is simply a byproduct of the confidence he’s displayed on the court as his career has progressed.
That, too, was a major work in progress, he noted, after a mostly forgettable first two years in the league left him questioning at times whether he belonged in the league at all.
“Sometimes you do think about that, you kind of do doubt yourself,” Bradley said. “Especially Year 1, Year 2, I [was] like, ‘Uhhhhh, I don’t know.’ But I continued to work, and I always thought of the positive side. You always doubt a little bit, but I just continued to push through.”