62 days. 62 negative tests. 38 games. One history-making experience.
On June 11, I received an email from the NBA asking about my interest and availability in participating in the recently finalized NBA Restart, which was to take place at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Apprehension, excitement, and awe were the feelings that flooded me in that moment. I wasn’t sure what to think … should I say yes? Commit to the whole 12-14 weeks? Just commit to 4-8 weeks? What about 8-12 weeks? Or should I just say no and move on with my life?
All these questions raced through my head with no guarantee of being selected, so I just filled out the survey and committed to every option possible. I did not want to miss this historic event the likes of which we may never see again.
When I received the call that I had been selected, I was, once again, flooded with conflicting emotions that started with pure elation. Should I go? Is it safe enough? Then, oh god, what about my family? Can I leave them for 30, 60, 90 days? So, it was time to talk to my better half, the reasonable one, and my innocent little ones, which, looking back, was not a good idea.
THE ASK – FAMILY SEALS THE DEAL
My wonderful wife, a schoolteacher, was preparing to get back to face-to-face school, along with my kids, so that made for an even more gut-wrenching decision. Why? The what-ifs come to mind. BUT, it wasn’t up to me … yet.
I received the call around June 20 that I was selected to make the trip – the easy part – and received more details about the job I was going to be contracted to accomplish. I was stoked. Beyond excited. But, I also found out that I had a little under three weeks to complete a whole bunch of information before heading to Orlando. But, still, the final discussion with the family was the dealmaker or dealbreaker.
After hearing what the pay structure was going to be and the level of commitment it was going to take, my wife was 100 percent behind me going. Check. One down. Now, on to the 7-year-old and 8-year-old. It wasn’t easy … tears were shed … words like “I don’t want you to go for that long, daddy” came out … I was torn to pieces making it even more difficult to fully commit.
In her infinite wisdom, my wife decided to play the Mickey card. “We’re going to Disney World … eventually” was the sentence that was uttered.
Immediately, the tears were gone, grins were ear-to-ear, and the previous words turned to “go daddy” and “stay as long as they’ll have you” … suddenly, the importance of the length of time disappeared and daddy was not going to be missed (although I really knew I would be). Isn’t it funny how the promise of seeing Mickey Mouse can melt away any sad feelings in a kid.
Well, now I had my commitment. It was time to complete the paperwork and embark on the journey to Orlando.
EMBARKING ON THE JOURNEY
On July 12 at 3 a.m., accompanied by my mother and sister, I embarked on the 15-hour adventure in a global pandemic from Indiana to Florida, which was in the middle of record-setting numbers in positive cases. Great. I am heading toward the contagion that we, as a society, were trying to avoid for four months, and into the unknown with just two other people I know making the trip. That was a comfort, but not much of one.
Throughout the adventure south I was receiving updated information from the NBA on locations of certain things, health data information, and other things. It seemed as if some of this was as fluid as the response to the virus. Finally, at 8:30 p.m., my mother and sister, who added to my stress by vacationing there, and myself arrived at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando for my first night. The instant I watched them drive away I said to myself, “well, there it is … you’re stranded”. What’s next?
After spending the first night being tested and waiting on results, I received the call around 5 p.m. on July 13 that I was ready to head over to the NBA Campus at the Coronado Springs Resort where, to my sheer joy, I would sit in exile … alone … in my room … for the next six days … unable to penetrate the doorway except to get tested. Oh boy, I said. This ought to be fun.
Thankfully, having ridden with my family, I was able to carry some extra luggage and that included my Xbox, which I had purchased for my kids, yes for my kids, to provide me entertainment between prepping for classes and closing out the summer graduate consulting course I teach. I spent a lot … a LOT … of time playing Rocket League, Minecraft, and, eventually I succumbed, Fortnite. It kept me from running up and down the walls during that first week, but I knew that making it through that week was going to make for an unbelievable experience that began on July 19.
I was right. I was able to clear quarantine and received my credential late in the day on July 19 and there was only one thing to do … go outside and walk … and walk … and walk. I joined my colleagues, David George and Jon Glesing, and we walked the entire campus on what amounted to, yes, a three-hour tour. A three-hour tour. It was amazing. The best walk I have ever had. Sanity was restored. Normalcy was returning. Saying yes to this experience was so worth it.
Over the course of the next 55 days, I would be a part of 39 games and meet people from the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, and many more. I would finish a graduate class over Zoom and start five undergraduate classes on August 24 on Zoom from my hotel room every day for the first three weeks of the semester.
I would work directly with Adam Fleisher and Evan Chvotkin from Washington, Brian Hill and Floyd Agosto, Jr., from Phoenix, and Greg Schafer and Tim Fontillas from Dallas. There were plenty of others as well: Shaughn from Philly, Harve from OKC, Rick from Phoenix, J.J. and Brandon from Memphis, Rodger from New York, Eric and Kevin from Los Angeles, Tim from Boston, and Tim from Indiana as well. That doesn’t even include the people in the striped shirts (Zarba, Ford, Foster and the rest) that spent all their spare time on the pickle ball courts staying in phenomenal shape or Jenna, Lindsay (sp), and Brian from the production team.
Pounding out game after game, including two Pacers games, a solid number of Phoenix Suns games, two game sevens, and two 50-point performances, over the course of the next 55 days was a grind, but it was the best grind. New connections matched with strengthening friendships changed the depression of being alone to an overwhelming optimism throughout the experience. There were argumentative moments. There were super positive moments. There were highs and lows every day. But we endured and I am straight envious for Adam, Tim, and Greg who remain in the bubble for an historic NBA Finals.
On September 11, I worked my final game at the NBA Restart – Boston vs Toronto in Game 7. The next day, I would checkout of the hotel, travel to the airport, and embark on what turned out to be an uneventful and quick 14-hour drive back to Plainfield, Indiana to arrive before the kids awoke to see me in bed and shed tears of joy that I had returned safely. All of it was worth every penny spent and every lonely moment overcome to know I was part of seeing something experimental work so smoothly. It all worked, and it all worked well. The NBA and Disney did an outstanding job at every turn and I thank them for providing such a positive experience.
THE MAIN POINT
The main point of this post is this – take advantage of opportunities presented to you. Say YES.
I have experienced a lot in my career from national championships to international trips, but this, this event was history. It will live forever. Twenty-two teams, countless staff, and medical professionals sealed off in a bubble of historic proportions marks a point in history where, I believe, I needed sport. I needed this and I think many others needed it too.
Say yes. Say yes when you can. Say yes as often as your job and life allows. Nervous about saying yes? You should be since new things are tough but say yes. Don’t know anyone? Say yes then go find someone to know. Take advantage of the opportunities as they are presented to you and you will feel a fulfillment with your life that you won’t believe.
I am beyond grateful to the NBA, Disney World, the medical people, and all of the folks I met for providing me the opportunity to say yes to this historic experience.
Now, as my wife promised, we can go to Disney World … eventually.