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Orlando, Fla. • Whenever I tweet out a story I write, it’s inevitable that some people will reply with their thoughts. Some are thoughtful fans who’ve actually read the story, others are merely drive-by trolls reacting to a headline. After tweeting out my story on Tuesday about the Jazz’s vow to continue pushing social issues, I have to admit, a couple people in my mentions really got to me with their replies.
I’m neither naive enough nor vain enough to expect everyone to share my worldview, but when I quote Donovan Mitchell speaking passionately about how he, as Black man, could wind up being a victim of police brutality, about how he wonders how people perceive him when he’s not a basketball player on the court but a person of color out in the world, and people come back with, “If players kneel during the anthem, I’m done,” or, “Why doesn’t he address black-on-black violence?” or “What about the NBA bending the knee to China?” it really puts me in a bad headspace.
I’m a white man from a middle-class upbringing covering a league largely comprised of Black men from varying backgrounds and experiences that I can’t personally relate to. And yet, it’s not that hard for me to listen, to try to empathize, to try to put myself in their shoes. If I had grown up Black and saw a justice system where people sharing my skin color were disproportionately incarcerated, wouldn’t I be distrustful of police? Of the legal system? I can’t see how I wouldn’t be. Which is why I can’t understand other people’s inability to try to see the world from someone else’s perspective before blindly rattling off some dismissive talking point.
Anyway, enough negativity. I’m bumming myself out.
On a more light-hearted note, Joe Ingles also brought the human element in his media session this week. Before the Jazz left for the Orlando bubble, he and Mike Conley discussed their discomfort with leaving their families behind for so long. So, when he was asked Tuesday what had been the most difficult thing to adjust to in the bubble, hearing Jingles talk — even in his predictably unpredictable fashion — about trying to keep up with all the latest goings-on at his home back in SLC was a nice little reminder of his humanity (although, being the droll, sarcastic person he is, he’d probably hate me saying that).
“When I was home, I would drop Milla [off] and pick her up every day from school and that was kind of our little thing that we did. My wife would take Jacob to therapy. Missing all of that stuff is the hardest,” he said. “Jacob started potty training, not that you guys care, but he peed at school this morning, which is really cool. Just those things.”
I’m sure I’ll get a few responses letting me know that no one cares, and the only thing you want to hear from the Jazz players is how they’re going to beat the Pelicans on Thursday (4:30 p.m., TNT). Quick, important reminder: They were people long before they were basketball players, and they’ll be people long afterward, too. So maybe lighten up a little. If you thought of and discussed your work as much as you apparently expect them to do, I have little doubt you’d be the dullest person on Earth.
A less-heart-wrenching thing to get used to
Part of the reason I argued for braving the coronavirus outbreak in Florida and coming down here to cover the Jazz’s first couple games of the NBA restart is that being in the building for games that matter, but which will be played before zero fans, is an unprecedented opportunity.
So much is made of home-court advantage in the NBA — what will happen when there is zero of that?
That’s why I’ve been so intrigued to hear various Jazz players discussing what an adjustment it’s been acclimating to such a weird atmosphere in the three scrimmages the team played.
“It’s really quiet in the arena with no fans. It’s really weird when they put virtual fans up and you’re playing against [Brooklyn’s] Joe Harris, and Joe Harris is also a virtual fan on the screen,” Ingles noted. “… I think, honestly, the biggest difference is playing in that arena like that. It’s extremely different to what we’ve played through our whole careers. The teams that can adjust and normalize it as much as possible are the teams that will do well.”
Donovan likewise cited the “virtual fans” appearing on the giant video screens in the arena as taking some getting used to — particularly because the sound associated with them had a few distracting bugs.
“The fans threw me off a little bit. But, at the end of the day, when we play with fans in arenas, you get used to whatever is really in the background,” he said. “The noise I was not really a fan of. It just all feels like a big game of [NBA]2K. It just didn’t feel real. I don’t know how to explain it, but I wasn’t really a big fan of just the random noises — especially since a lot of it was delayed. After a bucket, we’d inbound it, get to half court, and then we’d hear the yelling and screaming. Hopefully that changes.”
A few quick catch-up things
I’ve been writing a lot of Jazz stuff lately (obviously) and I’ll keep doing so (obviously). And Andy Larsen has been increasingly jumping back in to Jazz/NBA coverage of late, too. Here are a few of my favorite recent stories of ours that, if you haven’t read yet, you should give ’em a look:
• It was weird traveling again — weird being at the airport, weird being on an airplane, weird being in Florida amongst so many Florida Mans. So I wrote about what my last couple days have been like.
• Andy has the Utah market’s media vote this season for the league-wide awards. So first he wrote about who he voted for in the various individual honors, then he followed that up with his explanations for the team-related awards.
• I got on a conference call with former players-turned-ESPN commentators Jalen Rose and Paul Pierce to get their thoughts on the Jazz. They were pretty critical. Interestingly, I expected most fans to be filled with righteous indignation, but I got a lot of feedback that people mostly kinda sorta agreed with a lot of their points.
And finally …
Thanks to those who forwarded me some music suggestions for the plane ride. I gave a few a listen; a few more I have yet to get to. But here’s a suggestion from me to you. If you’re a fan of the Cameron Crowe semi-autobiographical film “Almost Famous,” you haaaaaaaaave to listen to the 20th anniversary podcast series put together by James Andrew Miller. The backstories on the casting decisions, the writing process, the rock boot camp put together by Nancy Wilson and Peter Frampton … it’s all insanely addictive. You can thank me later.