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The Iso: Essence Carson

Mar 28 2020
Photo by
Jed Jacobsohn/The Players' Tribune
Photo by
Jed Jacobsohn/The Players' Tribune
Essence Carson
Phoenix Mercury
Mar 28 2020

The Players’ Tribune is introducing a new series called The Iso. With so many of us keeping our distance from each other in a variety of ways, we decided to ask some of our favorite athletes to share how they’ve been dealing with life in the Covid-19 world, and how they’re spending their time away from their sport.


Y’all need to understand something. This is not a game.

I’m an introvert, so being alone and inside is O.K. with me. I’m comfortable that way. But I gotta be vocal on this — about the handling of this by others.

I know a couple of people who ended up getting the virus. A friend of mine in New York City who had it — he should be on day 13 now — he’s finally coming out of the fog.

A lot of people not taking it seriously right now. My friend’s improving every day, but it was definitely, definitely very hard. It’s not like he’s an elderly person. He’s my age. So, anybody can get it. “I couldn’t breathe,” is the way he explained it. “There was like a burning feeling in my chest.” Yeah.

I’m from Paterson, New Jersey. A lot of people not familiar with Paterson. If they are, they know about Fetty Wap, or they know Victor Cruz, and not much else. It’s an inner city, right? So, a lot of times, people don’t have opportunities or a lot of places to go. I know people from my city that’s never been outside Passaic County. Never gotten on a plane before, you know? And this is in 2020. I say that to set the scene, so you understand when I say they just don’t feel like they have a chance.

These places needed resources before, so what do you think they’re like now? The virus in New York right now is huge, man. Forty-five-thousand cases (and counting) across the whole state, like half of those in the city itself (as of the last time I looked at least, which was March 27). And it’s just like, Yo, this is crazy.

Ever since I was a kid, I felt like, I gotta do something extraordinary to give myself a chance. I was raised by my grandparents, and they instilled the value of hard work in me. My grandfather was a janitor. I don’t know if you remember the Grand Union grocery store, but he was a janitor at the one in my town. My grandmother was a nurse. The whole mentality was just: You gotta work. They worked double shifts, and that’s what I saw — people working hard. My mother is a cancer survivor. All I know is seeing people fight.

Courtesy of Essence Carson

I been staying home … shoot, at least a week. I started working from home on a Friday — that was the 13th, so since then pretty much. Two weeks. I’m coolin’ though. I enjoy it. 

To me, it feels like my off-season, when I would be just training like hell. So, normally, I would train twice a day. Now, I can’t really do that as much because the basketball workout gets pushed to the wayside. I still get a chance to train, but it’s just at-home stuff. I wish I could get in the gym more.

Before this lockdown started, I was doing a lot of one-on-one work. Every year I pick something that I want to improve on. Over the years, I started out as kind of a midrange, attack-the-basket type of player. From there, I stretched my game out a little more and was able to extend my range. I was working on three-ball a lot. And now, since I got all of that under my belt — and defense has just been there since the beginning of time — now it’s just being efficient when it’s time to pick those one-on-one iso opportunities.

All I know is seeing people fight.

The game is different than it was 1o years ago. It’s evolved. It’s a lot of iso-ball. That’s not a bad thing. It just means you gotta be able to make things happen. You have to be a playmaker. When the clock’s running down, and you have the ball in your hands, what are you gonna do? Are you going to be effective? Are you going to be a threat? Nowadays everybody on the floor is a threat, so you need to make sure you are, too.

Meditation, reading and writing, those are the threads of my day. It’s the foundation of my peace of mind. You can achieve that with anything, you know, no matter what industry you’re working in. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. It’s imperative that you make sure that you’re still doing those mental exercises throughout the day to ease your mind and give you a sense of peace.

Right now, everything’s in an uproar. Everything is chaotic. You don’t know whether you’re coming or going. You don’t know whether this is reality or not. That’s why, at the end of the day, you have to do the work to find the peace inside of you.

Music and basketball — those are the two things that I think about constantly. I work over at Motown Records right now. That’s something that a lot of people don’t know about me. Everyone knows me from playing basketball, but I also do music. I do a little bit of everything over there. I’m still working from home, so the landscape of my day didn’t really change that much — just the location.

I journal through music. I’m not just talking about writing lyrics either. Journaling is a form of art. It’s an expression. It’s a reflection of your innermost emotions and what you see in the world. I’ve played the piano since I was about nine years old. When I sit at the keys and just play, a lot of times my emotions reach the music — a kind of quiet exchange happens between my fingertips and the keys that feels closer to my idea of journaling than anything I could produce with just my words.

I like to feel like I’m contributing to the bigger picture. I ask myself all the time, What am I doing to move the world forward? Honestly, that’s what I think about a lot. Am I doing enough to move the world forward, or am I a reason why we’re stuck?

It’ll get worse before it gets better. I just hope that it doesn’t last for a long time. There’s no quick fix, but we all need to move together, hand in hand. (Well not hand in hand, but you feel me!) We need to be moving together in the right direction.

Essence Carson
Phoenix Mercury