Before the NBA shut down four weeks ago in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the only thing more impressive for the Los Angeles Lakers than their No. 1 record in the Western Conference was their team camaraderie.
They were a team that went to dinners together, attended each other’s charitable events on off nights and all dressed up for LeBron James‘ Halloween party.
So, while Lakers players were placed into a 14-day self-isolating period after two unnamed players tested positive for COVID-19 and the team continues to practice social distancing through the government-mandated April 30 timeframe, it’s no surprise they’re trying to come together even while being physically apart.
“For the guys, we work hard with our strength and conditioning staff to make sure they have fitness bundles delivered to them where we can do Zoom workouts,” Rob Pelinka, the team’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager, said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “This is a team that just loved being together whether it was on the bench, on the bus, in the locker room. These guys just have a great chemistry of being together. So they’ve tried to stay as connected as possible in the ways they can, working out together virtually.”
Pelinka took advantage of the technology as well, conducting the call over Zoom — a video conferencing service — with about a dozen reporters who regularly cover his team.
The Lakers executive, who said he keeps a quote from Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, on his desk – “Sport has the power to change the world” — thinks that resuming the NBA season can bring people around the globe together once the coronavirus crisis is contained.
Despite all the challenges that exist, he can’t help but be optimistic.
“I think all of us right now have to live with hope, and we have to live with faith and trust and courage and those attributes because it’s a really, really hard and dark time for the world,” Pelinka said. “And so I’m going to choose to fix most of my thoughts on that we will have a chance to finish the season. I think that would be a great thing for us.
“But we also know that this situation is so much bigger than basketball. The reason I have that hope is not for personal accomplishment. Just, it’s more that I think it could be the best thing for the world, going back to that Nelson Mandela quote: I think sports can really be powerful.”
Still, Pelinka recognizes that putting the wheels in motion now to play games again — be it with no fans, or gathering all the teams in one location like Major League Baseball is proposing to do in Arizona – is premature.
“I think all of us hope that we get to May and there will be more information and clearer information,” he said. “We’ll put the health of the world and our fans and our players first and foremost, but hopefully once we get past this initial phase where we’re all putting in these efforts to flatten the curve — if we see success there — hopefully it will get to a place where we can see more definitively what those plans might look like. But I think it’s too early to know.”
If returning to the court to salvage some semblance of a finish to the 2019-20 season proves to be untenable, Pelinka said he will still be able to feel some sense of accomplishment with the Lakers’ campaign.
“It’s almost like I look at our season like a series of tests and we got a lot of As. And we got some A-pluses and some A-minuses. And I think there has been a lot of success in that,” he said. “We haven’t had the chance to take a final exam yet. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to celebrate the As that we’ve gotten so far.”
Pelinka kept basketball in the proper perspective during the nearly 30-minute call, however.
He reflected on his late friend, Kobe Bryant, being named to the Naismith Hall of Fame’s 2020 class: “I think all of us are heart broken that he couldn’t be there to receive that moment in person. But I have a level of confidence he’s with us in spirit and still is celebrating that.”
He spoke in reverent tones about his wife who is a physician, Dr. Kristin Pelinka, and the medical community combating the coronavirus: “Just to hear the conversations that the doctors are having, it’s really incredible, it’s inspiring to know that all of them first and foremost are concerned about the health of other people.”
He recognized how COVID-19 can still be stigmatized and respected the anonymity of his players who contracted it: “The only people at the Lakers that know about the identity of the individual players are the two players who tested positive and our team doctor. And that was just the protocol that we had set up.”
And he embraced being a part of the Lakers’ top brass who will voluntarily defer 20% of their salaries in order to protect lesser-income employees from feeling the wrath of the unsettled economy: “Anything I can do to be a part of an initiative that allows people to keep their jobs during crisis and hard times, I’ll be a part of that.”
Source : ESPN