Former New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury is trying to arrange a deal that would deliver 10 million N95 masks to New York City, but he has run into issues coordinating a deal between a Chinese company and the coronavirus-struck city.
Marbury told the New York Post that he arranged for a supplier in China to sell the masks for $2.75 each, nearly two-thirds less than their standard price tag.
“At the end of the day, I am from Brooklyn,” Marbury told the Post from Beijing, where he coaches the Chinese Basketball Association’s Royal Fighters. “This is something that is close and dear to my heart as far as being able to help New York.”
Marbury added: “I have family there in Coney Island, a lot of family … who are affected by this, so I know how important it is for people to have masks during this time.”
Marbury reached out to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to help coordinate the sale.
But Adams told the Post that he was initially informed by the officials that they did not need the masks. When the Post contacted state Department of Health officials, however, they said state officials “want to talk to Stephon.” The department was put in touch with Adams’ office to continue talks.
Marbury played in the NBA for 13 seasons, including five with the Knicks, before joining the CBA, where he played from 2010 to 2018 before becoming a coach last year.
How international NBA players have stayed connected to home
THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION knew it needed to step in and help.
As the NBA has become more international in recent decades, its ranks have grown in kind. About a quarter of players on opening night rosters — 108 of 450 — hail from 38 countries and territories other than the United States. Many of those countries, such as Spain and France, were ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic well before it slammed the United States, where the death toll surpassed 100,000 on May 27.
Many of these players first experienced COVID-19 as it affected friends and family in their home countries before it spread in the U.S. For the NBPA’s chief international relations and marketing officer, Matteo Zuretti, long phone calls, text messages and emails presented a specific picture of angst, fear and stress. “When your loved ones are in danger or they’re going through a tough moment,” Zuretti said, “every mile that separates you from them is multiplied.”
In mid-May, after the NBA suspended its season, officials at the NBPA organized a Zoom call with players. They sought to focus on mental health — to listen to concerns and provide resources — and wanted to interact with a specific group that they found was experiencing the pandemic in a different way.
The session was led by Dr. William D. Parham, the NBPA’s director of mental health and wellness, and former NBA guard Keyon Dooling, the director of the NBPA’s mental health and wellness program.
“[Letting them know] that they have support of the brotherhood is very important,” Dooling said.
About 30 international players dialed in from cities around the U.S., sharing concerns about loved ones thousands of miles away and about when and how they might be able to see them again. They asked about their ability to leave the country and come back, about their family members’ ability to leave and come back, and whether family members would be able to join a “bubble” environment if the NBA season resumes.
The call, originally scheduled for an hour, went for more than 90 minutes. For as many different languages and backgrounds as the players shared and for as much as they’ve been in isolation in recent months, they found common ground. “They discovered that everybody is in the same storm,” Zuretti said.
These conversations struck a chord for Zuretti, particularly his personal communications with San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, New Orleans Pelicans rookie Nicolo Melli and Oklahoma City Thunder wing Danilo Gallinari. They are the NBA’s three active Italian players, and Zuretti too hails from Italy, specifically Rome, where his family members still live.
“I’m walking in their shoes,” he said, “so I know how it feels.”
AT FIRST, BELINELLI didn’t think COVID-19 would be that bad. Maybe just a fever — that’s it. But then he talked to his father, Daniele, who worked as a doctor for 42 years.
From Italy, his father offered a simple warning: “Be careful.”
By mid-February, during the NBA All-Star break, Belinelli vacationed with Gallinari in Turks and Caicos, near the Bahamas, and the shadow of Italy’s intensifying battle with the virus loomed over them. On Feb. 22, Belinelli tweeted an article about the virus. His parents were going to visit him in San Antonio, but they decided against it for safety reasons.
Belinelli, along with his countrymates Gallinari and Melli, sought insight from back home to grasp a better understanding of what was happening. Melli sent a flurry of texts to a friend serving as an emergency responder in his Italian hometown. During breaks between long shifts, the friend texted back grisly details.
“It was so bad that their army had to come out and pick up the corpses, the bodies, from the hospital,” Melli said. “And they cannot have a funeral. Family cannot be there. They cannot give the last hug, the last kiss. They cannot see each other in the eyes.
“They die alone, suffering.”
Belinelli started self-isolating, making only vital trips outside. On trips to a San Antonio grocery store, he would see shoppers who weren’t wearing masks or gloves, standing right next to one another. He’d wonder, Why weren’t people taking this virus seriously? While social distancing in New Orleans, Melli and his wife would stop at a nearby park for fresh air before heading out for groceries, and they’d see it packed with locals. For all their frustration, both players knew that the situation was far more real to them because of where they are from.
Melli shared details with Pelicans staffers. He told them that the league was going to shut down and that the coronavirus was far more serious than any of them knew.
“Guys,” one Pelicans staffer recalled Melli saying, “you have no idea what’s coming.”
When the March 11 game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz was suddenly delayed and the players were rushed back to their locker rooms, Gallinari feared the worst. Sitting by his locker, he began texting with Zuretti, relaying concerns that someone had tested positive. “He just knew,” Zuretti said.
The three players leaned on one another in a text thread that added links throughout each difficult day. They shared experiences, news and concerns about what was happening half a world away and, soon, in the American cities outside their doors. They asked questions about whether to return to Italy or stay put and, if they did stay, whether to stay in their respective cities or move elsewhere. They discussed ways to help, and all three eventually made charitable donations.
“It’s a crazy situation,” Belinelli said, “but we will be stronger.”
Although they forged different paths to the league, the trio of Italians have known one another for years and have played on national teams together. They all hail from Northern Italy, home of the first reported cases in the country and the first region to lock down on March 8. In their respective American cities, Melli, Belinelli and Gallinari offered warnings after hearing eye-witness accounts from Italy.
They became harbingers, sharing in the awful knowledge of what swept through Italy and what could happen in America.
AS ZURETTI LISTENED to players and watched the coronavirus spread both in Italy and in his home city of New York, a consistent theme emerged, one that was understood even if not explicitly stated: the distance.
It magnified and underscored every issue at a time when players were isolated and, for the time, could do little else but wait.
“This lack of certainty — and their inability to go and do what they’ve been doing for the last 10, 15, 20 years, every day — it has created a big hole,” Zuretti said. “There’s an empty space there. And the fact that some of them cannot even fill that space with the people they love, with the support from the people [they’re] closer with, it has been having a big impact on their experience during this pandemic, 100 percent.”
That experience is one that all players — American and international — are grappling with. “Some people might be on the West Coast,” Dooling said. “Their family might be in the South that’s being hit hard. Everybody’s experience is unique to them.
“[But] it hit our international players more because you’ve got bodies of sea separating them from their people and families. It’s definitely been stressful for them. What we try to do is support them through these kinds of experiences so they know they’re not alone.”
As NBA practice facilities reopen across the U.S. for individual workouts, Zuretti said basketball has proven to be a welcome reprieve for players. “It’s a way to exercise their superpower,” he said.
There’s an increased likelihood of NBA games resuming in July, likely in Orlando, Florida, though issues and logistics must still be worked out. On May 22, the Department of Homeland Security announced an order that “exempts certain foreign professional athletes who compete in professional sporting events organized by certain leagues, including their essential staff and their dependents, from proclamations barring their entry into the U.S.” Several leagues were covered by this exemption, including the NBA.
In the meantime, technology allows those who remain a world away from their families to stay connected. They can hear their voices over the phone and see their faces on virtual sessions. And while basketball remains on hold and circumstances keep them separated from family half a world away, Melli, Belinelli and Gallinari keep their text chain active.
“In this struggle,” Melli said, “the virus brought us closer.”
NBA’s top-seeded teams mull longshot alternatives to home court, sources say
Just days away from Thursday’s vote of the NBA board of governors to approve a plan to restart the season with 22 teams in Orlando, Florida, several of the franchises considered to be title favorites are internally discussing how to retain some semblance of the home-court advantage they fought to earn through 60-plus games in the regular season.
No plan has been formally proposed, and one would be unlikely to pass because it would require a two-thirds board of governors vote in addition to an agreement from the players’ union. Nevertheless, teams that would have traditionally had home court have tried to figure out incentives to reproduce the leg-up that hosting four games in a seven-game series would have offered, sources told ESPN.
If nothing else, the league has learned these past several months that innovation and creative thinking are its lifeblood to navigate a global pandemic that threatens to cancel the NBA Finals and prevent a champion from being crowned for the first time in the league’s 74-year history.
And so in a Hail Mary, some teams are trying to invent a way to exchange the home-court advantage they lost for an alternative advantage down in Orlando.
Executives from the teams that would host a first-round series in the playoffs told ESPN that they had internal discussions within their own front offices about reviving their home-court advantage in some fashion, and that some have already shared ideas with other teams in the same situation with the hopes of having an ally when making an appeal to the league.
Yes, some of the very teams that could soon be trying to eliminate one another in the postseason have been recently working together in a shared pursuit to regain the advantage they would have enjoyed at home.
Strange times make for strange bedfellows.
Some of the scenarios discussed, sources told ESPN, include:
The higher-seeded team being awarded the first possession of the second, third and fourth quarters, following the traditional jump ball to begin the game
The higher-seeded team being allowed to designate one player to be able to be whistled for seven fouls instead of six before fouling out
The higher-seeded team receiving an extra coach’s challenge
The higher-seeded teams being able to transport their actual hardwood home court from their home arenas to Orlando to try to preserve the feel of their home playing experience
An off-court feature where playoff teams, in order of seeding 1-16, receive first dibs on picking which hotel they will stay at in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and Disney World Resort
“I do think the NBA cares about it,” one Eastern Conference executive told ESPN when asked about making up for home-court advantage. “I do not think it’s a top priority for them.”
The NBA’s competition committee — made up of owners, general managers, players and coaches — held a meeting Tuesday and none of the potential home court advantage alternatives were raised, sources told ESPN.
The competition committee acts as the league’s incubator to discuss the merits of incorporating competitive rule changes into the game. It’s a brain trust that serves as a buffer for the league, discussing new ideas before recommending them to the board of governors for a formal vote.
Among the questions posed by league executives to ESPN when discussing the replacement options included wondering how many of the proposed benefits would form a rough equivalent of the boost that home court brings. They also questioned whether the tweaks could come off as too gimmicky and compromise the legitimacy of the eventual champion in a postseason that’s already atypical.
One executive suggested to ESPN that the NBA should present the higher-seeded team a menu of league-approved options before each game — or possibly each series — and have them pick one. On the one hand, it could be an added wrinkle to the home viewing experience for fans to look for when they tune in. On the other, it could come off akin to a contestant on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” choosing between lifelines to help with a final answer.
Another “radical” idea pessimistically floated in background discussions, one Western Conference executive told ESPN, would be allowing the higher seed to pick its first-round opponent.
The executive did not believe the league would go for it.
An Eastern Conference front office member, working for a team currently slotted for the playoffs, didn’t like the radical idea either.
“Picking your opponent can lead to bad karma,” he told ESPN, noting that previous G League experimentation led to upsets. “You can offend the basketball gods.”
Of course, as one league executive warned ESPN, the league could determine that any first-time rule change in a playoff setting would just cause more hurt to the integrity of the game than it would be worth.
“For each problem you’re trying to fix,” he said, “you’re potentially creating other problems.”
ESPN’s Malika Andrews and Tim Bontemps contributed to this report
Knicks owner James Dolan ‘vehemently’ condemns racism in follow-up email to MSG employees
NEW YORK — Less than 24 hours after sending an email to employees stating that the Madison Square Garden Co. is “not more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters,” Knicks owner James Dolan emphasized in a follow-up memo to staff that the company condemns “racism against anyone.”
“Yesterday, I made a sincere attempt to provide my perspective on a very difficult issue, one that has no easy answers,” Dolan wrote in Tuesday’s email, which was obtained by ESPN. “I know how important this topic is to so many, and I do not want there to be any confusion about where I as an individual, or we as a company stand. So let me be clear: we vehemently condemn and reject racism against anyone, period.”
Most NBA teams made public statements condemning racism in the days following George Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis. Floyd, a black man, was killed after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.
The Knicks and the San Antonio Spurs have not put out statements, though Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been a steady voice for social change in recent years, including in a recent interview with The Nation.
In his email Monday, Dolan said some employees “asked whether our company was going to make a public statement about the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.”
Since that email was made public, the Knicks and Dolan have faced backlash, with further confusion brewing after the team’s official Instagram account posted to its feed Tuesday morning a black square with the hashtags #BlackOutTuesday and #NBATogether. #BlackOutTuesday started in the music industry but became a viral attempt to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“My point yesterday was about actions, and the importance of living your values,” Dolan’s Tuesday email continued. “At Madison Square Garden, we have worked hard to build an environment of inclusion and mutual respect and those are the values we try to live every day.
“Racism is born of ignorance and it’s up to each of us to understand the person working beside you is your equal without regard to color, or any of the other qualities that make us diverse. And any injustice to one person is an injustice to everyone.
“This is how we at MSG fight racism. We start with ourselves, and through our actions, we define who we are. That is how we can be an example to the wider world. That was the point of my message yesterday.
“I am proud of the environment you have created here. I know that this is a difficult time, and that we will always need to communicate with one another on hard issues. I will continue to do as much as I can to do as much as I can to help make our community even better. I know you will also.”
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