Kyle Lowry has been a big contributor to the NBA’s return to the court as part of the players’ association restart group. He strongly believes it will work.
Speaking to the media for the first time since the NBA shut down on March 11 due to COVID-19, the Toronto Raptors veteran was feisty. He chastised one reporter for having bad WiFi. He pretended not to hear another. He said the best thing about the four month layoff was not having to “talk to any of you guys.”
But the 34-year-old guard was serious when it came to the coronavirus, which is raging across the U.S. like a prairie grass fire. He’s confident in the safety of the NBA’s campus at Walt Disney World.
“Protocols are unbelievable, I think our protocols and our health and safety measures have been top-notch, I think this thing will work perfectly,” Lowry said. “I think the league, the players’ association has done a phenomenal job of making sure that we’re doing everything that we can possibly do to make sure that we’re healthy, we’re safe and we’re in an environment where we can be successful and to do our jobs at a high level.”
In the time since the NBA chose to play at Disney World, Florida has become a COVID-19 hot spot, setting a record by topping 15,000 new cases on Sunday.
Major League Soccer also chose Disney World for its MLS is Back tournament, but stumbled out to a rocky start, with two teams withdrawing due to positive tests, and numerous game delays.
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Lowry is a “big fan of how everything has come together” for the NBA, and said the weeks spent on a cruise ship with the U.S. basketball team at the 2016 Rio Olympics — the team opted not to stay in the athletes village — helped prepare him for the Florida campus and its restrictions.
“That experience was pretty awesome, being around those guys, but it kind of really prepared me for this type of living,” said Lowry, wearing a backwards blue baseball cap on a Zoom call Monday. “To live on a boat and be in a smaller room and not have as many amenities, that time really prepared me for this.”
He has no complaints about the living arrangements, which could be home to the Raptors for nearly three months.
“Listen, I’m living good,” he said. “I’m healthy, my family is good, I get to play basketball, I can’t really complain. I get meals and I’m happy. I’m able to do my job and provide for my family and to get out there and entertain and try to give some enthusiasm back into the world with our basketball abilities.”
Setting the example
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said the fact Lowry was a big part of the team’s restart plans trickles down to the rest of the team.
“Having him as the guy who’s kind of setting the example, he’ll say to these guys, ‘Take this stuff seriously, take these protocols seriously, let’s be smart and let’s do it,’ and I think it certainly resonates with the rest of the team,” the coach said.
“Let’s be smart” will be key to the restart’s success. New broke Monday that Houston Rockets forward and former Raptor Bruno Caboclo inadvertently broke quarantine and must now self-isolate in his room for eight days.
Nurse praised Lowry both for his leadership in the restart and on the court.
“It’s clearly Kyle’s team. His care factor is way up there, his intelligence factor is way up, we’re in good hands with him being the leader of this team,” Nurse said. “When a guy plays the way he does, the leadership by example — that phrase is probably over-used, but it’s certainly the case. For basketball in general, the way you play is like the first kind of characteristic of being a great leader.”
‘Dad has to go to work’
Lowry, who has two young sons Karter and Kameron, said it will “suck” to be away from them for the next few weeks — families aren’t permitted at Disney World until the second round of the playoffs.
But he said his boys understand the sacrifices required right now to play basketball.
“They understand that their dad has to go to work,” Lowry said. “The one thing I always say is FaceTiming technology, as you guys see on this Zoom thing, it’s changed the game, so I can talk to my kids every single day. They can FaceTime me, they call me to talk, it’s kind of interactive, we make sure that I know what’s going on with their day, they’re consistently asking me questions, and asking me to buy them Roblox [an online game].
“That’s all they really care about is Roblox, and my money and spending it.”
The four-month break gave Lowry the rare chance to be home with his sons, and he cherished the time with them, and the opportunity to be able to tuck them into bed at night.
“That was the longest time I’ve ever been able to enjoy my actual home [in Philadelphia], my family, my friends,” he said. “But it was different. Times were different. You wanted to be more careful, you wanted to be in a situation where you want it to be safe, and understand that you have to be safe with your family.
The Raptors know that loneliness will be one of the biggest challenges of these unprecedented next few weeks, and so the team put up family photos in each player’s room. They’ve all be appreciative, including Lowry, who said it was reminiscent of the family wall in the Raptors’ locker room at Scotiabank Arena, which is plastered with photos of players’ kids, spouses, parents and grandparents.
“That’s just one thing that the Raptors organization has always kind of implemented is family, your family,” Lowry said. “So it’s cool. Nice gesture.”
A theme of the NBA’s restart will be social and racial justice. The Raptors arrived at Disney World in two buses painted with “Black Lives Matter” in big block letters. Lowry participated in a huge protest last month in Philadelphia.
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“We are in a time where we need to keep that conversation going. We need to be heard from. We need to speak loud and clear,” he said. “We need to understand that things need to be done for the situation to be changed, laws to be changed.
“For me to be a part of that, that’s who I am. I grew up a Black man in America. It’s definitely a tough thing to grow up that way, because you never know what could possibly happen to you. You never know if you’re going to make it out. For me to be able to talk to you guys is a blessing. So for me to be able to do that, it’s my right, my duty and my honour to represent the Black culture.”