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When I left my apartment for the arena on the afternoon of March 11, everything seemed completely normal.
Same for when I first got to our building. It was just like any other pregame — shootaround at four, team walk-through, physical therapy, then a quick workout on the court. About 40 minutes before tip-off we had our team meeting, and then it was out to the floor for the game.
That’s when things started getting strange.
I’m always the first player from either team to take the court for the opening tip, and usually when I get out there the three refs are standing in the same spots every time — one at half court, and then one near each free throw line. But on this night I get out there, and the refs … they’re not around.
So I know something’s up.
As soon as I notice the refs are missing, the first thing I do is look over to CP, Chris Paul. And he’s standing like 20 feet away … looking right back at me. We both have kind of the same looks on our faces. We’re the two oldest guys out there. We’ve played in a lot of games. Seen it all. But we’d never been out there to start a game when there were no refs on the court. So we’re just out there looking at each other like, What in the world is going on here?
Then I turn my head to the side and notice that all three refs are at the scorers’ table talking to our head trainer.We’re just out there looking at each other like, What in the world is going on here?
A few seconds later, it was like everybody just kind of stopped what they were doing. Including the crowd. Our fans stay on their feet until we score our first basket, so everyone was out of their seats ready for tip-off. But instead of it being loud this time around, the place was pretty much silent. There was just this eerie feeling in the air. Like no one knew what we were supposed to do.
Once the other players saw that the refs were huddled up with the trainers, we all just slowly went back to our benches. And I remember when I got back to the rest of the team, everybody was just totally confused.
No one knew what was up. Including me.
But at the same time, you know what? I can honestly tell you that the first thing that popped into my head at that moment was….
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I’m from Italy. My country had been dealing with COVID-19 issues for more than a month at that point. Sporting events there had come to a stop. I figured maybe something had happened over here, too.
But no one was telling us anything, and none of my teammates had any sort of personal experience with what the virus was doing to people like I did. So when they sent us back to the locker room, I don’t think anyone else on our team was thinking what I was thinking. They were just really confused. And the scene was unlike anything I’d ever been a part of. Our arena gets so loud during our games, but while we were walking off the court, it was like you could hear a pin drop.
Back in the locker room, it seemed like we were waiting forever to find out what was going on. We were all just sitting around trying to predict what was up.
After a minute or so, I spoke up.
“Guys,” I said, “my guess is that this is something related to that virus. The coronavirus.”
As soon as I finished that sentence, a bunch of players started asking me questions. I was in the middle of the locker room just fielding questions from everybody.
Guys just wanted to get information. For the most part, I wouldn’t say that anyone was scared.
Me, though? I actually … was scared.“Guys,” I said, “my guess is that this is something related to that virus. The coronavirus.”
I knew what was happening back in my country, and I’d had that feeling about what this might be. So I was definitely worried and scared, but mainly I just wanted to get information, too.
All of us in that locker room … we weren’t sure if the game would be delayed or what. My teammates were in there still trying to keep warm. A few guys were stretching, a couple of others went back to the gym to get loose again. People were still thinking we’d play.
Then, after what seemed like an eternity, Coach Donovan gathered us together and let us know that the game had been canceled.
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Right around that same time our head trainer told us that one of the Jazz players was getting tested for coronavirus. But he wouldn’t tell us the player’s name at first. He said that all of the fans had left the arena, and that we were allowed to take a shower, but that we could not leave the locker room.
After our showers, the trainer let us know that Rudy Gobert was the player who had tested positive, and then, one by one, they took each of our temperatures to see if any of us had a fever. When all of our temperatures came back normal, that’s when we were finally allowed to leave.
Back home, my night got even crazier.
Pretty much everyone I know called me or texted me to ask what was going on. I’ve never seen my phone battery go from 100% to 0% so fast. It went down to zero in less than an hour.
It really was a lot all at once. And I ended up staying awake until like three or four in the morning because I was hoping to get some news from our team, or from the NBA.
By the time everybody started waking up in Italy, my phone went even crazier. But those people — family and friends back home — they didn’t ask me what was going on.
They knew all about it.
They’d been living it for weeks.
For the past month or so, any time my cell phone rings and I see it’s a call from Italy, automatically I brace myself.
And my phone rings a lot these days.
The morning after that Jazz game, we got news that we were supposed to stay home, quarantine ourselves, and wait for the virus tests to come back. Mine came back negative, but I’ve been living under quarantine in my apartment in OKC since that night. So pretty much my only contact with the outside world is my TV and my phone. I spend more time on my phone than I ever have in my life.
When someone’s name from back home pops up, in my mind … there’s just so many bad things that it could be. I could tell you so many sad stories. Things that I never would’ve imagined hearing.
A few weeks ago, my phone rang and I noticed that it was my best friend from back home calling. He told me that his grandma — a woman I knew well — had passed away as a result of the virus. She was 80, but before this virus hit, she was in excellent condition.
All of a sudden, she gets the virus. Then it’s off to the hospital. And, of course, from that point on the family could not go there to see her. In Italy right now, you cannot go and check on anybody being treated. The hospital keeps you away so things don’t get worse.
It makes sense, for sure. Like you can understand why they do that. But at the same time, it’s just really, really tough on families who have loved ones getting sick. It’s a heartbreaking situation.
When my friend’s grandma died, the family couldn’t even see her one last time to say goodbye. The hospitals over there, they transport any deceased patients to a quarantined location for burial. But they don’t want anyone getting too close, so they don’t even tell the families where their loved ones are being taken.
Can you imagine how hard that must be?
Someone you’ve known and loved your entire life is just … gone. Forever. Just like that.
And that situation is happening to so many families all over Italy. Once you have a parent or a loved one who is affected by the virus and they end up at the hospital, there’s a real chance that you may never see them again.
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When it comes to me and my family … in some ways, as weird as it is to say, I’ve been lucky so far.
I feel fortunate to be able to report that as of today — as of right now, as I’m writing this out — none of my family members are sick. We’re doing O.K.
I’m still very concerned, though. My dad and brother are in Denver running the restaurant I own there, so for the past month my mom has been quarantined back home in Italy by herself. That has me worried for her. I keep telling myself that she will be O.K. — she’s lucky, she lives in a big apartment with a terrace that allows her to get some air. It definitely could be worse. There are so many families over there that live in tiny places and are just basically trapped. People are struggling emotionally and mentally to keep everything together in that type of environment.
And it’s not easy to do that when you have so much suffering all around you. It’s everywhere. I read news stories every day that make me so sad.
I come from the northern part of Italy, and that’s one of the places that’s been hardest hit by this virus. So I know a lot of people there who have been affected, people who have the virus, or whose loved ones do. I also know doctors and specialists who have shut down their practices to go and help at hospitals that have been overwhelmed. This is my country, my region, so I stay in touch with a lot of people there and they share with me what they see. I know what’s going on in the houses, in the streets, in the hospitals, with the police, with the military, and it is really, really scary.
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One of my best friends, he’s a hand surgeon, and he’s helping out at one of the hospitals that is struggling with a lack of supplies and beds for sick people. He tells me that the situation is far worse than what you see on TV. Overcrowding is a huge problem, so people are dying from the virus while others at the same hospital are dying from other medical conditions because there are not enough doctors and beds to go around. If you break your hip, or have appendicitis, they have no space for you. You can’t get assistance.
So any serious injury or sickness could end up being life-threatening.
For me, knowing about all of this, and being over here in the States, there really is a feeling of powerlessness. I wish I was over there right now to help. At the very least I wish I could be alongside my mom, or with my grandparents, who are in their 80s and very vulnerable to serious health problems if they get infected.
The thought of someone I love getting sick and dying, and me never getting a chance to see them before it’s too late?
That is truly my worst nightmare.
While I’ve been quarantined these past four weeks, I’ve just tried to do whatever I can to stay positive and offer support to those who need it.
In addition to keeping connected with family and friends, one of the things that’s really helped me to get through this period has been our team group chats and FaceTime sessions. Just being able to see my teammates’ faces, and ask how their families are doing, and for us to be able to support one another … that’s been really wonderful, really needed.
On those video calls, it’s basically the same as when we play our games. Because CP, that guy … he’s not just our leader on the court. He takes the lead in those FaceTime conversations, too. He kind of sets the agenda and keeps everything flowing.
Beyond that, me and CP are talking with one another almost every day. He’s an amazing person. He really is. Way back when things started getting bad over in Italy, he told me that he wanted to help my region and the local hospital, and so he’s done a number of things to pitch in and lend a hand. I cannot thank him enough. The nation of Italy has a great, great friend in Chris Paul, I can tell you that much. It’s truly special.
As for me, I’m trying to do my part both here in OKC and back home in Italy. I’m working with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department to purchase several hundred coronavirus testing kits for this region, as well as masks and other hospital supplies that are desperately needed. And over in my home country, I helped to fund the construction near Milan of a new hospital that was built in a matter of weeks to provide beds and treatment for those who are sick.
Gian Mattia D'Alberto/LaPresse/AP Images
Even in this unprecedented and deeply difficult time, I still believe with every fiber of my being that we will make it through.
I know it. There is no doubt in my mind.
So to everyone in the U.S., my adopted home, let me just say: Let’s continue being smart and staying home. Keep it up! We are doing the right things now by staying in and taking every precaution, but we all need to keep social distancing so we can beat this together.
And, of course, at this point I would also like to speak directly to Italy. To my country. My people.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very positive person. I’m an optimist. I am also someone who loves his country with all his heart, and who knows firsthand the strength and resiliency of the Italian people.
What we are facing at the moment, this coronavirus? It is a formidable opponent for sure. But it is nowhere near as strong as we are.
We. Will. Prevail.
It will take all of us. And it will not be easy. But we will prevail.
What I’ve been telling my family and friends is that, now more than ever, we have to stick together and do what is best for those around us and look out for one another. That’s what’s going to get us to the other side of the mountain.
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At a time like this athletics seem so unimportant, so irrelevant. But in some ways I still find myself returning to lessons that I’ve learned while playing sports.
In the game I play for a living, basketball, the best teams are the ones that never give up in the face of great adversity. They are made up of individuals who have each others’ backs till the end and who fight through even the toughest of situations.
When everything’s easy? That’s not the stuff of great teams. It’s easy to be great when things are easy. But when things get tough … that’s when the real champions come out.
And honestly, knowing our country’s history, and knowing the compassion and love and determination of the people of Italy, I can say without any hesitation that we are a truly great team.
We will come out on top.Knowing the compassion and love and determination of the people of Italy, I can say without any hesitation that we are a truly great team.
Everything is changing right now. We’ve been through so much already, and there’s no way to know how much worse it will get from here. This is not something we’re going to solve tomorrow, or next week. We don’t know how long it will take.
But if there is one thing I do know it is that….
This will not last forever.
And as I sit here writing this out, I can honestly say that I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that we as a country have turned a corner. We are staying home and looking out for those who need us most and … doing our best.
I have so much admiration for the people of my country and how we are handling everything right now. We are a great, great team.
So to Italy, and to all the people of my country, let me just close by saying that you are an inspiration to me.
And I send you all my love.