On March 11, a Covid-19-sized shockwave rippled across the entire sports landscape when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. In an immediate response, the NBA closed its arenas indefinitely, halting an almost finished regular season and putting respective postseason hopes on ice. Other sports leagues followed suit, rendering all answers about when pro team sports in the United States would return up in the air.
“I was startled [and] shocked,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal says. “[I] definitely took some time to process and understand what we were facing.”
At the time of postponement, the Washington Wizards were ninth in the Eastern Conference standings, one back from a playoff berth. But on the flip side, the team was also 5.5 games behind the eighth seeded Orlando Magic, so if the NBA is forced to come back in late summer on a tightly condensed schedule, any chances of a late-season run for the postseason would probably be mathematically impossible. Despite this, Beal says he wants to play when the league figures out its return plan.
“We have unfinished business and the standings won’t stop us from competing,” he says. “[I miss] our fans, the bond with my teammates and the grind.”
Beal’s local WNBA contemporary, the Washington Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne, felt the same way when the call to postpone the 2020 season came down. The only difference between the hoop stars was that his season was wrapping up, while hers was just getting started. Delle Donne, in the midst of celebrating the team’s recent championship and her contract extension to stay in D.C., is now focusing on her societal responsibility to be cautious.
“It was a bummer for sure, but it’s important we stay home for all of the essential workers who have to risk their lives and be exposed to the virus,” Delle Donne says. “I know we will have our chance. I’m excited to see a banner rise up at the arena. I’ve never really framed this season as defending a title. That title is ours and will live in history forever. I was looking at this season as hunting for the next one and I’m so hungry to get back and do that.”
Opening night for the Mystics was originally slated for May 16, which would have also included the championship banner ceremony and a showdown with the recently departed Kristi Toliver and the Los Angeles Sparks.
Delle Donne and Toliver joined the D.C. team together before the 2017 season and were arguably the two most dependable players throughout the run.
“I am going to miss Kristi,” Delle Donne says. “I’m grateful for our friendship and no matter what team we are on or what city we live in, that friendship lasts forever. She will do great things as always in L.A.”
To combat the loss of Toliver, the Mystics will welcome former WNBA MVP center Tina Charles to the team, a player Delle Donne can’t wait to share the floor with – the only question is when it will happen.
“We were mentally ready for training camp,” Delle Donne says. “But there are bigger issues right now and we know eventually we’ll begin again. Whenever we do begin, we will obviously need a solid amount of time to train and get our bodies right. Training at home isn’t nearly the same as playing basketball.”
Another realistic adjustment to expect is performing without a live audience: no raucous crowds and no guys on stairs yelling “popcorn.”
“I believe that whatever rules are set will be in the best interest of not just us as players, but of our fans as well,” Beal says. “Everyone has to remain safe and that should be the first concern.”
In the meantime, both Beal and Delle Donne have passed time like everyone else. The former is often playing video games, starring in TikTok dances choreographed by his partner Kamiah Adams and playing with his two children.
“They are my sanity,” Beal says. “They are so young and don’t know all that’s going on, so to them this is just fun times with dad. I love watching them grow every day and discovering new things I don’t get to on a regular basis. There is nothing like fatherhood.”
Delle Donne has participated in her fair share of TikTok challenges as well, courtesy of teammate Natasha Cloud. Despite being unable to play for her fans, she’s still attempting to put a smile on their faces.
“It’s given me an outlet when days are starting to blend and it’s been fun,” she says. “It’s really important to stay busy and active right now, and I’ve had a ton of fun accepting Tash’s TikTok dance challenges. I feel like it’s really important to keep my fans laughing right now, so I’ve been trying to keep content funny and frequent.”
Two of the top athletes in their sport, Delle Donne and Beal are also finding ways to work on their games from home, whether it’s on a personal court or in the film room. D.C. sports fans can rest assured that whenever these teams return to the floor, they’ll be prepared to play.
Keep up with Delle Donne on Instagram and Twitter @de11edonne.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content and to get a monthly print edition delivered to your door. Support local journalism and start your membership today.