It’s not a role that anyone in the NBA asked for, but basketball has been front and center in moving the story of the coronavirus pandemic in America.
It took Rudy Gobert’s positive test and lack of social distancing to get the sports world, and subsequently other non-essential businesses, to shut down or move to a work-from-home footing.
As the shutdown started, it was NBA players who showed that it was possible to shame billionaires into doing the right thing, and Joel Embiid in particular this week who showed the importance of keeping that pressure up as the richest among us, like 76ers owner Josh Harris, seek to hurt workers for the sake of marginal benefit to their bottom lines.
The availability of coronavirus tests for NBA players, while the general public largely has not had access to testing, has shone light on a fundamental break in our society. At the same time, the wave of positive tests out of the NBA further helped to make clear just how serious and widespread the virus is.
Then, on Thursday, two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry did an important Q&A with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the most prominent infectious disease doctor in America, helping to get out vital information about the importance of social distancing and presenting facts in an apolitical format that is impossible to get when Fauci is on a podium with Donald Trump.
Without a single ball bouncing on a court, basketball has been exactly what we needed, and that continued with Hall of Fame broadcaster Doris Burke’s announcement on Adrian Wojnarowski’s ESPN podcast that she has tested positive for COVID-19.
It should come as no surprise that Burke would be excellent at reporting a difficult story, but in just 18 minutes, she detailed her experience with astounding clarity. Burke didn’t suffer from all of the commonly listed symptoms of coronavirus — mostly, she said, she was tired and had headaches — and decided to get tested.
“You’re aware of the shortage of tests,” Burke said. “And you have that moral dilemma as a person, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh.’ At the time, they were saying, if you are symptomatic, perhaps you should get tested, as opposed to people that maybe had a mild (case). I had gotten to the point now, because in my mind I went back to the first day I had the headaches … I started to believe, even though my symptoms did not seem to line up with the typical symptoms, I believed, given the nature of my profession, the number of people I encounter, that I did, in fact, have exposure to the virus.”
Burke particularly wanted to know if she had the virus because of her proximity to her daughter, an attorney who works at City Hall in Philadelphia. But what was particularly striking was her concern to then reach out to as many people as she could that she had been in contact with — including an ESPN employee who’d worked a different event in Dallas, but by happenstance wound up across the aisle from her on a plane — to let them know she was being tested, and eventually that she had tested positive.
“It is my responsibility to contact anyone that I came into contact with to be sure they know,” Burke said. “You’re upset, you’re thinking, oh my gosh, I don’t want to make somebody else sick with something that can be life-threatening. Yeah, so, it’s unnerving, it’s disconcerting, it’s uncomfortable, but you call everybody.”
It’s impossible, though, for Burke to know everyone that she was around between March 11, when she first started to feel what turned out to be effects of coronavirus, and March 17, when she got tested. Or even before that, when the NBA was still up and running, and she may have been carrying the virus prior to any symptoms presenting. Burke knew one person on a Dallas-to-Philadelphia flight, but not everyone. Before that, she’d been at a Nuggets-Mavericks game attended by 20,302 people, not including everyone like her who was working at the arena that night.
That part should resonate quite a bit for anyone who, up until last week, was commuting daily on crowded subways or buses, or did any airplane traveling, or even just had lunch in a busy part of a city. And that’s why social distancing (which she’s practicing even at home) and the notion that people should act as if they’ve been exposed regardless of symptoms, is so important right now. It’s one thing to hear that as a general principle, quite another to hear Burke lay it out as firsthand experience, now knowing that she did have the virus.
As frightening as all of that is, Burke was able to put a positive spin on things going forward, showing the next area where the basketball world can help be a force for good at a chaotic time when there isn’t even any basketball.=
“We’ll see what ultimately comes of this, but one of the things Dr. Fauci said, and one other infectious disease doctor had said, basically we believe you now have immunity,” Burke said. “And in fact, one of the things I would like to do, because I have read this, Adrian, is that my body has now produced antibodies. So, what I would like to know is, should I go donate blood or plasma, so that in some way, this could help people, it could help find some sort of vaccine. So, that is on my docket to do, is to research and discover, should I go donate blood or plasma, in the hopes that somehow this helps somebody down the line.”