SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah Jazz were stuck in the visiting team’s locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on March 11, being tested for the coronavirus, it was a wake-up call, an up close and personal realization of the seriousness of a global pandemic.
Surrounded by masked department of health workers, the Jazz had just learned that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19, the NBA season had been suspended, and that they were at risk of infection. That meant that their families were likely at risk as well.
Mike Conley’s first thought was of his wife, Mary Peluso, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child.
“That was kind of my first priority and my first worry at the time,” Conley said on Friday. “Even when this was first coming out, there wasn’t a lot of research or a lot of cases documented of what happens with pregnant women or children when they’re born or whatever, so it was a little scary for us.”
Though fear mounted for the veteran guard that night, he was happy to tell reporters on Friday that his wife’s pregnancy has been without complications and everything at home is running smoothly. Or, at least as smooth as it can with Conley now in charge of childcare.
“I’ve been chasing kids around, it’s exhausting. I really am thankful for the nights we get in hotels and road trips, those things are needed at some point,” Conley said with a laugh. “They are a handful and my wife being pregnant she can’t do as much so I’m on call doing a lot with them.”
When he isn’t expending his energy to run around with two young children, Conley is trying his best to stay in basketball shape.
The Jazz, utilizing Zoom, have been conducting weekly team meetings with head coach Quin Snyder, in addition to virtual group workouts, and team challenges.
“We’ve had like fun little dribbling challenges that one of the coaches started per week and we crown a winner,” Conley said. “Just trying to keep guys engaged as much as possible in hopes that we can get back to playing soon.”
Conley has also been trying to stay engaged with his teammates in more recreational ways, playing Call of Duty with Royce O’Neale and Donovan Mitchell and playing Monopoly with Ed Davis.
With so much downtime and with no timetable for a return to the court, Conley acknowledged the difficulty in keeping the right mindset as the NBA navigates completely uncharted territory.
As the playoffs were supposed to start on Saturday, there is an internal clock for NBA players that is being thrown off by not having basketball in their lives. But, because the NBA and the players are still hopeful that the playoffs could still be played at some point, each person has to individually battle that internal clock that is telling them that now is the time to rest.
“It is a little different because it is like the offseason, it’s the point where we’re supposed to rest or whatever so it kind of gets that vibe and feel but at the same time that’s the feeling that you don’t want to be feeling right now,” he said. “You want to continue to put your foot on the gas and continue working and that’s been a challenge for every guy and I’m just trying to stay on top of it.”
Conley knows that he has the advantage and luxury of having a basketball court at his home. With team facilities and gyms closed, having a court to go to on a daily basis makes training easier.
There are players that for the first time in their basketball-playing lives have not been able to shoot a ball for over a month. And, there’s no telling how much longer that might be the case.
Now, when Conley thinks back to that night in OKC and the fear he felt when considering the health and safety of his family, he’s surprised at how quickly life has changed and how much more people now know about the virus.
“Looking back now it shocks me how much we didn’t know about COVID or what truly was going on,” he said. “To see it just completely shut down a league, literally within a matter of minutes once they got the news, that was evident of how crazy this thing is really going to get.”