Sometimes all it takes is a tweet to break someone’s heart. 

This is especially true for basketball fans who live in the NBA Twitter era, where breaking news can be read by millions in a matter of seconds. Whether it be trades or free agent signings, social media has gained that power to trigger emotions with a snap of a finger. Sports, quite frankly, holds that kind of value to us fans. It’s not just a game to us. It’s become an important of all our lives.

At the center of sports are heroes; individuals who are the closest to our hearts. There are many reasons for liking a player but the most common one is relatability. We often see the best and worst of ourselves in certain celebrity figures. For me, that figure is Kevin Durant. If anything bad had happened to him, I’d  cry in an instant.

On a tense Wednesday morning, I was met with a tweet. This should have been capable of breaking my heart.

Last March 18, 2020, several NBA insiders reported that Kevin Durant had tested positive for COVID-19. The disease had started to spread dramatically, and panic started to follow suit. The disease was fatal. I had to face the reality that my basketball hero could die soon.

I quickly closed the tweet, turned off my phone, and went downstairs with a blank stare. There were a lot of things that were on my mind then.

I needed a walk.

The great equalizer

All it took was one. A single test that would awake not just the NBA, but an entire country about the severity of COVID-19. In a matter of minutes after Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the disease, the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season indefinitely. Suddenly, COVID-19 felt much more real than before.

Athletes are close to the hearts of many of us. That’s why the feeling was so heavy the moment news of Gobert getting the disease started to spread. The suspension of the season was beside the point. What was more important was, in a very weird way, Gobert represented the NBA and its athletes as a whole on March 12, 2020. 

These athletes do things that make us feel various emotions. Championships create joy. Eliminations cause sadness. Gobert contracting COVID-19 brought about vulnerability. Fear. Anger. Uncertainty.

COVID-19 started to be called the great equalizer. The idea was that if a celebrity could contract the disease, what more you; a regular human being, sitting on a couch, browsing through social media for most of his day? NBA players are idolized for a reason. These athlete are treated as shining beacons of human values. They are superhuman. They aren’t supposed to get sick with something like COVID-19. It did not make any sense. 

Which brings us to the great paradox of an NBA athlete. They are both relatable and different from us. What they do on the court and how they handle themselves off it causes us to see ourselves in them. But their true statures in society make us realize we’re nothing like them.

After Gobert tested positive, more and more NBA teams started to gain access to testing. It made sense, but as days passed, it started to leave a bad taste in the mouth of certain people. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had quite an important tweet regarding the situation:

A single tweet can spark so much. This was a good example of this.

Others started to fire back at the Mayor’s take:

But there were those who understood where he was coming from:

Technically, both statements were correct in their own ways. But what we couldn’t deny was how powerful figures had access to testing but not the greater public. Sports can cause us to relate our reality to what’s happening in the world of athletes, right? Well this was a great example of it because this exposed the great inequality many of us face today. The message was, “power trumps all.”

This virus caused the suspension of both the NBA season and of regular life as we knew it. This was a societal problem and on March 12, 2020, it took the vulnerability (and foolishness, even) of a relatable, but also unreachable, figure to wake us all up.

Brady Klopfer of SB Nation perfectly summed it up: 

Ball is life?

One of the magical qualities of sport is how it can stretch the narrative of a two-hour game to the entirety of a day. Some events are so gigantic that the story can even be extended up to weeks. We were witness to such a moment on June 20, 2016, Game 7 of the NBA Finals. 

For two hours, many of us sat down and watched LeBron James lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a historic championship against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. Then the buzz would not stop there. For the rest of the 22 hours, discussions on what had just happened would fill not just social media, but even actual face-to-face conversations. Dinner tables. Classroom breaks. In some extreme instances, even during intimate moments between two consenting humans. Like what Nike says, Basketball Never Stops. Ball is Life. This is especially true in the Philippines.

From waking up early to watch games of our favorite teams, to actual scheduled pick-up games, basketball had become a large part of our lives as Filipinos. It became a part of our daily routine, so much so that many of us would reschedule important events just so they could have the opportunity to
hoop. 

Basketball-crazy. It’s a term that’s thrown a lot. But if there’s a race that deserves to be described by this; it is the Filipino people. 

The Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was declared in the Philippines on March 16, 2020. The declaration triggered a lot of questions. Most were reasonable, while others didn’t make any sense, but one question which was inevitable: Pano na basketball natin?

From games played in arenas to simple pick-ups on the street, suddenly, the sport that had become ingrained in our daily lifestyles was put to a halt. Filipinos are naturally defiant and creative, so others tried to find ways to still get to play. In my case, I made the most out of the small ring that was installed in our home. 

Then, reality started to creep in. We tried to emulate our routines of playing pick-up and watching games, but we had to face the truth. Things weren’t the same. As important as the sport was to our lives, there were other battles we needed to face then. In this case, it’s the threat of COVID-19. The threat is very real, especially here in the country.

On the evening of April 16, 2020, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gave a speech to the Filipino people to address concerns of COVID-19. Or at least it was supposed to be a speech that addressed the pandemic. Instead, what the nation got was its top executive ranting about political rivals and threatening to declare martial law to battle the Left. All of this, in the middle of a pandemic.

Tension has been high in the Philippines for the last month of this quarantine. The nation needed a breather. Some semblance of good news that could take our minds off this New Normal we needed to face. Enter, The Last Dance.

The moment ESPN declared they’d be premiering The Last Dance, a documentary on the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls, basketball fans breathed a sigh of relief. They needed basketball and this was a great way of satisfying the cravings of these people. On April 20, 2020, the series premiered on Netflix at 3:01 PM. This was it; the content this basketball-crazy country needed in the middle of this pandemic.

For two hours on a Monday afternoon, we watched a documentary on arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Then the buzz would stop there. For the rest of the 22 hours, we’d constantly think about not just ourselves, but also those outside who didn’t have the luxury of just staying at home all day. We had a pandemic to face. Sport needed to take a step back. It was only a spoke on the wheel called life that would keep on turning even without its presence. Life would go on.

The New Normal

I ran downstairs and aggressively grabbed my mug from the drawer. Sometimes, it takes a tweet to break someone’s heart, and this could have been a good example of that. I could have smashed the mug out of frustration because my hero had just been tested positive for a disease that was fatal.

Instead, I walked to the corner, grabbed the pot from the table, and poured coffee on my mug. It was 9:49 AM. My first day of working from home, which would start at 10:00 AM, started on that morning. I had time to spare so I prepared the cup of coffee that would energize me for the battle that I was facing. 

I went back to my room and opened my phone. A friend messages me, “Hey, you alright?” pertaining to the news of Durant contracting the disease. 

I immediately reply, “Eh. He’ll be fine,” while opening Microsoft Outlook for the first time that morning. This was the war I needed to conquer at the moment.

COVID-19 isn’t a great equalizer. It’s better if we call it a great whistleblower. It exposed the inequalities of our society and the flaws of what we consider important in our daily routines. Sports will forever matter in our hearts, but it can’t be everything. There are more important battles that we face outside the court, especially right now. 

The day will come again when we would be able to stretch the narrative of a two-hour event to the entirety of a day. When that moment comes, we’ll cherish that. Because while it is important to us, it’s also a luxury that can be taken away from our lives with the snap of a finger. For now, the wheel called life will keep on turning without the spoke called sports. All we can do is hold on and prepare to face more battles as the weeks pass by.