‘Trying To Save Other People’: NBA’s Pro-Vax Heroes Deserve Pub, Too
Desmond Bane was the last man chosen in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft, a four-year player out of Texas Christian, who went to the Grizzlies. In limited minutes for Memphis last year, Bane showed himself to be one of the steals of the rookie crop, a 42.3% 3-point shooting in 22.3 minutes per game. He had a stretch of nine double-digit games in 10 outings in January and February, and back-to-back 22-point games in May. He showed promise.
He showed more, though, on Monday at Grizzlies media day, when he spoke about why he got vaccinated from Covid-19.
“I was telling somebody the other day,” Bane said, “if the government or whatever people wanted to say, if the people that ended up getting vaccinated somehow passed away down the road, I would be fine knowing that at least I was one of those people trying to save the other people who didn’t get vaccinated. That’s kind of my thinking on it. If we’re going to do it, we’re all going to do it together.”
We’re all going to do it together? Saving others?
This does not sound like the overwhelming message to come out of the NBA’s media day, which focused as much on who was not getting shots in their arms as who could make shots for their teams. A day usually filled with optimistic rah-rah pablum instead focused on the skepticism of a handful of players around the Covid-19 vaccine. That’s unfortunate.
In Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving refused to take questions about his plans for a vaccination, and for Golden State, Andrew Wiggins (who applied for and was denied a religious exemption to vaccine rules) sparred with the media. Wiggins said he would continue to “fight for his beliefs” but responded with, “It’s none of your business,” when asked what those beliefs were. Whatever they are, they are important enough to fight for, even if they’re not important enough to verbalize.
Wizards star Bradley Beal and Magic big man Jonathan Isaac also used the podium to spout anti-vax perspective.
When it was not the vaccine, it was internal strife, which seems rampant among teams heading into this season. In Philadelphia, the questions were not about Covid-19 but about the glaring absence of star guard Ben Simmons, who is not showing up for training camp as he pushes the Sixers to trade him away. In New Orleans, star forward Zion Williamson and team president David Griffin had to quell reports of a rift between the two.
With the negativity sucking the life out of the NBA’s room, there was little opportunity to hold up a guy like Bane, expressing a clear-eyed view on the state of the pandemic in this country and why getting the vaccination is an act caring for your teammates, other members of the organization and your fellow man.
Lillard, Giannis, KAT All Have Their Say
It was not just Bane, either. It was Portland star Damian Lillard, who had a rough offseason packed with trade chatter himself. Lillard said that when the opportunity to get a shot arose, he asked if he could bring his family to get vaccinated, too. “I’m not mad at people who say they need to do their research, they got to take the steps that make them comfortable, but I have a lot of people in my family that I spend time around,” Lillard said. “I’m not going to put their health and their lives in danger.”
It was one of the biggest stars in the game, too, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was more about his family than himself. “For me, I think it was best for me and my family to stay protected,” Antetokounmpo said. “Yeah, I’m vaccinated. I put everything down and I thought it was the best decision for me to be safe. I have kids. And, you know, who knows, who knows how this vaccine will affect you down the road. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. I know right now it’s going to keep my family safe.”
There was Karl-Anthony Towns, too, who gained notice on Monday for expressing some frustration with the Timberwolves as an organization after the abrupt firing of team president Gersson Rosas. Towns was justified though, given that he is now on his fourth coach and fifth front office in seven years with the team.
The real clincher of what Towns said was not, “sh— hasn’t been easy since I came here,” but what he said immediately after: “The only thing that’s constant is me being a constant professional in all of that.” He’s right. He has put up with a lot more than the likes of Simmons or Williamson, but he has not made himself a public spectacle nor agitated to be dealt away from Minnesota.
It was the Simmons story that dominated on Monday, a case of player putting himself well above the team. But let’s highlight what Towns had to say:
“I put the Wolves first before myself,” he stated. “I’ve done that every single step of my career to make sure new teammates who come here have been comfortable in this situation, made sure that they felt important, made sure that they felt that they had a chance to do something special here, and most of the time it comes at the price of me. And I’m OK with paying that price every time if it leads to wins.”
Speaking of paying a price, Towns also spoke about the price that anti-vaxxers like Irving, Wiggins and Isaac face. Towns lost his mother, Jacqueline Cruz, to Covid-19 in 2020, then contracted the virus himself early this year. In all, Towns says he had seven family members die from Covid-19. Speaking to Sports Illustrated in a story released this week, Towns intimated he lost 50 pounds and when he returned, “I was as big as D’Angelo [Russell],” he jokes. “I was as big as our guards.”
Earlier this month, Towns expressed frustration on social media about his fellow citizens dodging the vaccine, writing, “y’all starting to get creative with these ‘reasons’ though.”
And, most poignantly, he posted something Irving and others should take to heart: “It never matters to people until it happens to them. I hope no one has to deal with what I’ve dealt with, and still continue to deal with.”
It was a small handful of outlier opinions and actions that dominated the opening of NBA training camp. It’s too bad that obscured so many other good stories.