As training camp began for the Indiana Pacers, Victor Oladipo was peppered with questions about whether his last season injury was healed and if he really wanted to be a Pacer.
What really stood out at the former NBA All-Star’s press conference, though, was him bringing an eloquence and a sense of perspective to the table in reflecting on the coronavirus.
Oladipo expressed a gratefulness outlook that professional athletes can even play the game they love as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the planet.
“It’s something that should not go unnoticed,” Oladipo said of how sport still “brings back joy” to fans and the players are “able to perform. It’s something we should be thankful for.”
Anybody who can play any sport should be thankful. The coronavirus has afflicted more than 77 million people worldwide, causing 1.7 million deaths.
Lives have been taken, lives have been ruined, daily life has been upset. Sports is a small, insignificant part of that of little import by comparison.
With the Pacers scheduled to play the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, the NBA is about to become the first North American professional sports league to embark on a new season after finishing its previous season under siege from the virus.
Initially, pro football was unaffected because March was its offseason. The NFL has muddled through this campaign with playoffs and a Super Bowl in sight. The National Hockey League shut down when the NBA did and then resumed play in the summer, also like the NBA keeping its teams in a bubble environment.
Major League Baseball halted activity in spring training and delayed for months playing out a truncated season. The current plan is to go to spring training on time and play ball April 1, 2021, for real.
The virus has assaulted college sports. College basketball lost the NCAA tournament, started later than usual for 2020-21 and has witnessed scheduled games canceled left and right.
Butler’s men’s team opened Nov. 25 but did not play again until Dec. 16. The Bulldogs were scheduled to play DePaul on Monday night, but DePaul went into quarantine and Butler scrambled to dig up another opponent.
All Indiana high school sports were called off last spring, resulting in sad endings to high school careers for seniors. Fall sports commenced and were completed in multiple sports, though not without teams being abruptly and unhappily sidelined by positive virus tests, opponents’ positive virus tests, contact tracing and an inability despite following social distancing to stay clear of germs.
Brownstown Central’s football team paused summer activities temporarily because of the virus. Then the Braves had their opening game wiped out when Corydon Central called in sick at the last minute. At his team’s postseason honors ceremony, coach Reed May said he was surprised the season lasted for the duration.
Individuals in other sports were sidelined because they were exposed through family members or friends.
This has been an exhausting winter high school sports season as Indiana has shot up the world-o-meter measurement charts to the 12th most besieged state for number of virus cases.
Five Jackson County high schools compete in sports. Currently, the Seymour girls basketball team is in quarantine, the Crothersville boys basketball team is in quarantine and the Medora boys basketball team is in quarantine. None can practice or play again until Dec. 28.
The Crothersville girls basketball team is hosting the four-team Lady Tiger Classic on Saturday, though Monday one team dropped out and was replaced by another eager to play.
The Trinity Lutheran girls basketball team is hosting a four-team holiday tournament Dec. 28, but one original team dropped out and was replaced by a substitute.
Scheduling is a nightmare for coaches and athletic directors trying to provide athletes with the maximum number of competitive opportunities while keeping them healthy.
Unprompted during discussions, several local athletes, runners, swimmers and football players have mentioned how happy they were and are their teams have played on, got schedules done, in the face of the pandemic.
Most games are taking place in near privacy. Indiana University football, which lost out on facing Purdue in the traditional Old Oaken Bucket game, performed only before family members in otherwise empty stadiums around the Big Ten this fall.
The Colts allow just 10,000 fans into Lucas Oil Stadium. MLB’s regular season was basically fanless. Some NBA teams have announced they will permit fans to attend games in the new season. The Pacers have mulled allowing up to 4,400 fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Not now, though, maybe later.
Protocols required to be followed by media members to enter an arena to cover a game are about as stringent as they must be for tourists to visit CIA headquarters.
“To say we don’t miss the fans in the arena, it’s just a lie,” Oladipo said. “The excitement and the energy…they make the game. But lives are way more important than basketball.”
For NBA teams to go from no fans to some fans will mean the world situation improves, and that is something to root for.
Lew Freedman is sports editor for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].