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At least three times a day, Nuggets assistant coach Jordi Fernandez transports to Spain, where his parents, uncles, aunt, cousins, sister, grandma and friends all grapple with their new reality.
The FaceTime calls provide a small reprieve for Fernandez, 37, who’s watched from afar as the coronavirus pandemic yanks at the threads of his country. On Wednesday, Spain’s death toll surpassed that of China, where the virus originated. At 5,690 deaths and rising, Spain trailed only Italy, where the outbreak had claimed 10,000 lives heading into Sunday.
Last week Madrid converted a popular ice rink to help store bodies because the funeral homes and hospitals have been overwhelmed. The crisis in Europe, believed to be two weeks ahead of the United States, offered an ominous indication of what could come our way.
Fernandez’s parents live with his grandmother in a 1,000-square-foot apartment in his native Badalona, in the far northeast corner of the country. Independent and healthy, his grandmother lived by herself until she was 88 years old.
“You spend a lot of time outside all year ‘round, and right now that’s no longer allowed,” Fernandez said of Spain’s government-mandated shutdown. “They’re that part of the population that’s, they have a lot of risk because they’re older than 60, and my grandma is almost 90, and they all have had some sort of heart condition. Minor, but they’ve had it, so that’s one of the reasons that it’s scary.”
Fernandez’s roots run deep in his native country. He has friends who are healthcare workers — doctors and nurses — who are on the front line battling the virus. One of his friends traveled to Madrid, contracted the disease and is now in an intensive care unit.
“He was at home for like a week or so,” Fernandez said. “High fever, and it got to the point where he couldn’t even breathe.”
Another one of his friends is also in the hospital.
“And those are guys that are younger than me,” Fernandez said. “They’re in their early thirties.”
Nuggets rookie Vlatko Cancar has a direct connection with those in that age demographic. Before coming to Denver this season, Cancar spent two seasons playing for San Pablo Burgos in Liga ACB. He said he’s keeping tabs on ex-teammates as they navigate the shutdown.
“A lot of them are not really Spanish players, so it’s hard for them because they can’t go home to their families,” he said. “Even the league, it’s really supporting the players. Trying to send a message out there that this is really important, not just for yourself, but everybody around you.”
At the same time that his nomally bustling country grinds to a halt, Fernandez is heartened when he sees the resolve in his people. Fernandez mentions those volunteering to manufacture oxygen devices or masks for healthcare workers. He cites perfume companies re-routing their businesses to make hand sanitizer. DJ’s on balconies, musicians entertaining the masses, collaborative workouts to entertain the restless.
“I think you’re seeing all the police officers go into hospitals, using their sirens to say thank you to them, and a lot of people clapping at a certain time of the day just to support all those nurses and doctors,” Fernandez said. “That brings a country together.
“When I see it from here, it’s tough because you’re so far away, and at the same time it’s concerning because we don’t know how it’s going to hit us here,” he said. “We would be fooling ourselves if we think that everything will be fine in two weeks.”
Fernandez stresses that he’s not a doctor, nor an expert about the virus. All he has is first-hand knowledge of what happens when a country is caught blindsided by a pandemic. He’s hoping that the hard lessons learned in Madrid and Barcelona might aid the storm that keeps escalating in the United States.
First, Fernandez believes in the enforcement of the stay-at-home mandate which was issued in Colorado this past week. In Spain, police can fine citizens if they don’t have proper certificates to go to work or if they take a car to the grocery store instead of walking, he said.
“And that’s the only way that people listen and actually execute the plan is either when you fine them or when they’re really scared,” Fernandez said. “And I think we’re at that point. … It seems like here, yeah, we get all this messaging, ‘Hey, there’s a 5 o’clock curfew, and now nobody can leave the house.’ But who’s going to come after you and tell you, ‘Hey, you cannot be out here.’ Like, we have the army on the streets right now. Not just the police officers. Everybody is helping.”
Added Cancar: “I had a friend send me videos of police on the streets and then punishing whoever is outside, basically.”
Fernandez lauded Spain’s response to the homeless, with warehouses and conference centers converted to accommodate modest living conditions. The Associated Press reported that a school in Barcelona had been converted to temporarily lodge the homeless as well.
“They cannot be walking around and also getting infected and infecting other people,” he said.
Fernandez is also concerned about the overwhelmed health care workers. He said Spain has devised an email system to keep families in touch with patients since they can’t physically be with them. Instead of relying on nurses to hold the phone to keep families connected, Fernandez suggested cameras might help ease the distance.
“A lot of people they’re dying, and they’re dying alone,” he said. “And if you prepared that (system) ahead of time, I’m pretty sure you could do something about it. Otherwise, it’s going to be a huge (problem). All of our doctors and nurses, they’re going to suffer from, it’s almost like going through a war. Your mental health it’s definitely affected.”
Stateside, Fernandez has occupied his time with various player evaluations, and he’s also participated in international online coaching clinics to help him keep thinking the game. Still, there’s no avoiding the crisis that’s upended any semblance of normal life.
“I would ask everybody to stay home and just do this, not for yourself, but for everybody else,” Fernandez said.
James Dolan, the executive chairman of Madison Square Garden Company and owner of the New York Knicks, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Knicks announced Dolan’s diagnosis Saturday night. It is not clear when he was tested or when he received the diagnosis.
Dolan is the first U.S. major pro sports owner known to have tested positive for the virus. He also owns the NHL’s New York Rangers, along with other venues like Radio City Music Hall, The Hulu Theatre and The Chicago Theatre.
“The Madison Square Garden Company Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Dolan has tested positive for coronavirus,” the Knicks’ statement said. “He has been in self-isolation and is experiencing little to no symptoms. He continues to oversee business operations.”
New York has been the hotspot for the pandemic in the U.S.
All 50 U.S. states have reported some cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, but New York has the most, with over 52,000 positive tests for the illness and more than 700 deaths. About 7,300 people were in New York hospitals Saturday, including about 1,800 in intensive care.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.
Dolan is one of the most polarizing sports figures in New York. Earlier this month, Oscar-winning writer-director Spike Lee — one of the Knicks’ best-known fans — criticized Dolan after getting into a disagreement with MSG personnel about which entrance to the arena he could use. Dolan has also publicly clashed in recent years with former Knicks forward Charles Oakley, and frustrated fans chanted “sell the team” at some games this season.
The NBA has been shut down since March 11, the night that Utah center Rudy Gobert became the first player in the league to have a positive diagnosis for the virus revealed. The Knicks played host to Utah — which later had Gobert and Donovan Mitchell test positive — on March 4 and played host to Detroit on March 8. Pistons center Christian Wood also later tested positive for the virus.
Gobert, Mitchell and Wood have all since recovered.
The 64-year-old Dolan also serves as executive chairman of MSG Networks, and has been chairman of the Garden and owner of the Knicks since 1999.
The New York Knicks announced Saturday that owner James Dolan has tested positive for the coronavirus but is experiencing little to no symptoms.
NBA teams and players have donated more than $38 million and nearly 1.5 million meals since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the league.
A second Colorado Avalanche player has tested positive for the coronavirus, the team announced Saturday morning.
According to a statement from the team, the franchise was informed of the player’s positive test late Friday night. The player, who has not been identified by the team, is now in self-isolation.
“All other Avalanche players, staff and others who might have had close contact with the player have been informed and remain isolated as per prior League direction and are monitoring their health and will be in touch with Club medical staff as necessary,” a statement from the team read.
No other player or member or franchise staff member has shown symptoms at this time, the team said.
The Avs annoucned their first player to test positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, and previously, two members of the Ottawa Senators also tested positive. The Senators played at San Jose on March 8, the day before the Avs. Both teams used the same visiting NHL locker room at SAP Center.
Both games against the Sharks unfolded despite a Santa Clara County warning to residents saying they should avoid large gatherings.
The Avalanche played one final home game March 11 against the New York Rangers before the NHL suspended its season. The Denver Nuggets, who share Pepsi Center with the Avs, announced March 19 a franchise staff member tested posted for COVID-19, but did not indicate if that person was a player.
A little more than two weeks into the coronavirus hiatus and NBA minds are getting restless.
Players whose bodies are conditioned to ramp up their performance at this time of the year are stewing. Coaches who would normally be scouting playoff opponents are left with an indefinite void. Media, typically tasked with figuring out tiebreak scenarios at this juncture of the season, are forced to speculate.
Will there be a second training camp? Will the Nuggets play their remaining 17 games of the regular season schedule? Will the playoffs be truncated? Are fans a part of the equation? Is there a date beyond which the NBA wouldn’t consider extending the season?
In an interview with ESPN, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked about the criteria to return. In his answer, he offered this carrot: “All suggestions welcome.”
In order to return, the NBA has to assess these four factors, in no particular order: Time, risk, money and championship window.
Many have speculated that Labor Day – Sept. 7 – would mark an absolute end date. Extending the season further would potentially impede the start of next season. That’s a little more than five months from now — a fair amount of time depending on when the virus abates. That’s obviously unknowable. But before locking down any plans, the NBA would need to know how much time it had to condense a training camp, a regular season and a postseason into.
For context, LeBron James speculated he’d need a minimum of 1½ weeks of a training camp followed by anywhere from 5-to-10 regular season games before the playoffs.
“You’ve been building six months of conditioning and preparation …” James said on the Road Trippin’ podcast, making the point that his internal clock isn’t used to decompressing in March.
With less time, would the league consider three- or five-game series in the postseason? With more time, might the league play the rest of its regular season?
That bleeds into the next component: risk. By suspending the league before any other U.S. sports organization, the NBA already proved its willingness to get in front of the pandemic. Silver wasn’t willing to assume any more risk after Rudy Gobert’s positive test. The same should be assumed when the league returns. It’s doubtful fans will be allowed to watch in person as that would expose both them and the games to unnecessary threat.
Playing games without fans would constitute a middle ground. Furthermore, it’s safe to assume the NBA will consider anything to mitigate risk to its own players. For that reason, would the league consider ushering all eight playoff teams from each conference to one neutral city in order to minimize travel and exposure? Maybe four regions for 16 teams would suffice.
In that vein, perhaps something similar could be done for a set amount of regular season games, where a cluster of teams could be isolated yet still preparing for the playoffs.
Everything’s on the table, per Silver’s directive, but revenue will have an outsized say in what ultimately happens. Basketball fans were robbed of an NCAA Tournament this season. Would a 30-team tournament, as proposed by Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, help satiate owners? It’s a complicated dance Silver will endeavor to pull off over the next few months.
Finally, it’s impossible not to consider the opinions of the league’s frontrunners, who’ve spent months solidifying homecourt advantage and building a team capable of lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy. James is 35, and the Lakers have held onto the No. 1 seed the majority of the season. Doesn’t he deserve a chance to win his fourth ring? Doesn’t Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee’s year-long dominance warrant an opportunity to win his first? Silver knows that his players are waging an unwinnable battle against time.
We can do nothing but speculate as the league figures out how to churn into action once again. All ideas are welcome.