Chris Paul continues to dribble. The 11-time All-Star point guard, or “Point God,” as he is known, is in the middle of his sixteenth NBA season and his first with the Phoenix Suns, his fifth team and third in three years. The Suns are currently flying high in the western conference after a decade of disappointment, and have returned to playing at home to modest crowds of 3,000, in deference, of course, to the coronavirus.
It would be wrong to say that Paul, the focal point of The Day Sports Stood Still, a documentary that premieres Wednesday on HBO in the United States, is slowly returning to “normalcy,” whatever that may be. Paul’s career, and his life as a 35-year-old husband and father, was dramatically altered by the virus, although he did not contract it himself. He was not alone.
“It’s amazing to see that Covid ended up being that starting point, but it’s definitely not the end point,” says Paul towards the end of the 85-minute documentary.
Paul has also been president of the National Basketball Players Association for nearly eight years, a role that proved vital as the NBA recovered from the shutdown caused by Covid-19. (That was only 12 months ago, believe it or not. The game resumed in August, less than eight months ago.)
The Day Sports Stood Still, directed by Antoine Fuqua with Paul as one of four executive producers, is not entirely appropriate as a title, because it covers the nine months between when the game was stopped in the NBA and when the season began. 2020-21 in December. It also includes interviews with various athletes outside of basketball, which muddies the narrative in places.
It turns out that the coronavirus also altered the careers and lives of many other world-class athletes, none perhaps more so than Karl-Anthony Towns, the Minnesota Timberwolves star who lost his mother and six other family members to the virus. Cities touching instagram message About the disease before the death of his mother has been seen 3.5 million times.
In an interview for the documentary, Towns said, “If I saved a life, that’s all I ever wanted to do in that video, because I didn’t know if I was going to lose one.”
Towns, who was later diagnosed with the disease (but recovered and returned to the Timberwolves), would add: “This was the first time I had to slow down and say, ‘What’s really important in my life?'”
Others not so directly affected by the virus, like Paul, were asking the same question. Paul was in the arena to play for the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 11, 2020, when the team’s game against Utah was delayed and later suspended, because Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for Covid-19.
“I was like everyone else, what the hell comes next?” Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, says in the documentary.
It’s safe to say that almost everyone wanted to resume play as soon as possible, as long as the environment was safe. That meant the games were played in a controlled “bubble,” with no fans, which officials admitted could affect the quality of the game itself. “It’s the music of the game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says of the crowds in the documentary.
Successfully completing the NBA season at Disney World in Florida would turn out to be the easiest part of the NBA’s comeback, psychologically at least. First, the coronavirus disproportionately affected black people in the United States, and black people comprise a vast majority of players in the league.
Just two days after the Thunder-Jazz game, Breonna Taylor, a black woman in Louisville, Kentucky, was killed in a barrage of police gunfire. Two months later, George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, was killed by the police. Their names became national, and later international, shouts of protest in protest of police brutality against African Americans. Paul said Floyd’s death changed the conversation.
The players wanted to come back: “I have to play for my sanity, I love competing so much,” says Paul. The players largely felt it was worth getting back into action even though they would be playing on what amounted to a sound stage and being separated from their families for months. Paul brought a keyboard to Florida so he could learn Lizzo’s favorite song from his daughter.
However, three weeks after the NBA season resumed, Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, was shot and seriously injured by police in front of his children in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Doc Rivers, then the Los Angeles Clippers coach, said through tears in a memorable interview, “Why do we still love this country and our country doesn’t love us?”
NBA playoff games were postponed after the Milwaukee Bucks, who play near Kenosha, decided to boycott a game, and the WNBA, NHL and MLS also suspended action. That could have turned into another day when sports came to a halt, and Paul had to think hard whether even a delayed season at a theme park with no fans was really worth continuing.
You won’t find a spoiler here on how he and other players came to their decision, but it turned out to be a very personal choice. Not a year has passed since then, so it may be too early to say that it was the right choice, especially with the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter still topics of interest. But they seem to be happy with their choices.
“I don’t think anyone has really realized the effect sports have on all of us,” says Paul near the end of the documentary.
But he also adds that the sport did not seem the same to them either. Nothing else does, for that matter. Someday, it is very likely that fierce high-level professional and college matches and matches will be played in front of a huge crowd of spectators. Paul, acquired on a preseason contract with Oklahoma City, is an All-Star again.
He has always played with uncommon poise and has been a reliable team leader. In fact, it keeps dripping. But his goals have been reset, as they have been for most of us, when you think about it.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism