David Pick-Teil 40

As time goes by between submitting blogs to BIG MAGAZINE, I gather my thoughts and collect data and information about the subjects I’m going to address in my next column.

I’ve been blessed with a good memory, photographic almost, but there are always things that fall between the cracks. One of the most important skills I’ve developed in my previous life as a journalist when attending games was the ability to watch the game play out, but also scour everything going on off the parquet - coaches movements, bench players whispering to each other, managements reactions courtside or up in luxurious VIP boxes, referees body language towards players, fans frustrations and excitements, and celebrities in attendance. I’d focus on anything and everything, because anything can be a story, and a good story is everything.

The second skill, equally important, was TAKING NOTES. Whatever I saw happen during the game or outside the arena … I always wrote it down in my “notes” application on my phone. I’d arrive at games around 1-1.5H before tip off, sometimes before the players themselves. Most of the time I’d lock up the arena, leaving after all the players, staff, fans and sometimes even security. There were a few times I recall walking to my car at an empty NOKIA Arena lot in Tel Aviv and the manager of the Pizza Hut would ask if I wanted a leftover pie before he threw it out. HELL YEA I took that pizza and killed it on the drive home. I’d get home at 02:00 sometimes, then sit down to write my story until about 04:00-05:00. There’s no way I’d remember everything noteworthy from around 18:00 till then. Hence the importance of writing things down.

Every time a notable thought and idea comes to mind, or when I read something worth discussing online - I’ll lock it into my “notes” and unleash it in these blogs. My great editor Marcel Friederich thought an overlook of how COVID-19 is affecting teams and leagues around Europe would make for a good read, but never did I think that jocking down these notes would become a freaking supermarket-length list spiraling out of control with endless cases of players and coaches testing positive, games being forfeited and cancelled, and teams completely isolated. INSANE.

Here is a quick review of the detected COVID cases around Europe and how it’s affecting basketball.

Zenit Saint Petersburg: 8 players including Arturas Gudaitis, Austin Hollins, Vladislav Trushkin, Anton Pushkov and 3 coaches testedpositive. Lost twice 20-0 (Euroleauge since rescinded its decision to play the games against Valencia and Baskonia at a later date). Khimki Moscow: Greg Monroe, Maksim Barashkov, Janis Timma, Jordan Mickey and Evgeny Voronov tested positive (forced to play with an 8-man roster and lost). CSKA Moscow: Semen Antonov, Janis Strelnieks, Andrei Lopatin and Nikola Milutinov tested positive. Kalev: Multiple players tested positive, game against Lokomotiv has been cancelled. Shortly after, the VTB United League sentenced a technical 20-0 win in favor of Kuban. Stelmet Zeiola Gora: 2 players tested positive. Game vs Parma postponed, team isolated for 10 days. Bourg: Coach and multiple players tested positive. EuroCup game vs Venezia postponed. ASVEL: Norris Cole and multiple players tested positive. Pau Orthez: All 12 players, including the physical trainer and U-18 team tested positive. Multiple games were cancelled. Cholet: Coach Erman Kunter and multiple players tested positive, FIBA BCL game against Hapoel Holon cancelled. Real Madrid: Fabian Causer tested positive. Barcelona: Sarunas Jasikevicius and Nikola Mirotic tested positive. Unicaja Malaga: EuroCup game against Buducnost has been cancelled before the appearance of COVID cases among the Spanish team personnel. Zalgiris Kaunas: Joffrey Lauvergne tested positive, LKL game vs Nevezis was postponed. Leicester Riders: Coaches and multiple players of both mens and womens teams tested positive, isolated for 10-14 days. The Euroleague Disciplinary Judge declared that Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljanalost its EuroCup match 0-20 against Turkish club BursasporChernomorets Burgas: 5 players and head coach Vasco Evtimov tested positive, all scheduled games have been postponed according to governmental health instructions. Still no official protocol is set in Bulgaria with regards to COVID. Lavrio: 4 players tested positive, game against Promitheas was cancelled. KK Zadar: Coach Veljko Mrsic isolated after it was detected he spent time with an individual who tested positive to COVID . ALBA Berlin: 6 players have tested positive for COVID, German Cup has been cancelled.

COVID is real and we must wear masks at all times and maintain social distancing according to government guidelines, but life has to continue, and I think that similar to having the flu or catching a virus - whoever is infected must quarantine themselves until he or she recovers. But that’s it! ONLY them. not everyone else. Should someone in our work environment (office, class, team) test positive to COVID, those in contact with that individual should be tested for COVID. People that tested positive should be isolated, but others that tested negative should be allowed to continue with their lives. And I hope it’s soon understood that we must keep sports alive.

The most important thing I think we all agree on is that basketball cannot survive long term without fans. But also, how many people can attend games is subject to change in different countries. While Russia and Eastern Europe are experiencing another wave of COVID cases, I’ve seen arenas almost full in Japan, and Zalgiris had 5,000+ in a recent Euroleague game against Anadolu Efes. Great success in battling and overcoming the situation in those regions. Israel, however, if you’re not media or with the team, no entrance, no fans. I see France and Italy picking up just a bit is showing signs of encouragement. Russia has closed its doors to fans because of a dramatic spike in covid cases.

Israel recently experienced its second lockdown since March, from September 20 to October 18 - no schools, no synagogues or public gatherings, no restaurants or cafes, shopping centers closed, airport closed to departure flights, and a one kilometers mobility restriction for everyone. Police authorities have issued hundreds of fines to those who broke the one kilometers restrictions with fines up to 1,250 Euros. There was one exception the government agreed on showing flexibility - teams participating in European competition were granted access to train and travel (Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Holon, Hapoel Jerusalem and Ironi Ness-Ziona). Hence, how ALBA Berlin and Bayern Munich played in Israel. Other teams grew frustrated and the league commissioner came up with a clever and creative idea: All Winner League clubs registered for the Balkan League; meaning all clubs now “play” in European competition; meaning all clubs can practice and open their gyms. This created a domino effect and shortly after all the National League teams registered their players for the FIBA 3X3 Tournament, so now they too play international competition and can resume training. It became a shit show, but that’s Israel in a nutshell. Nothing the government does really makes sense. As I’m writing these lines, we are slowly coming out of the lockdown, though my team’s gym remains closed and I haven’t seen the inside of an arena or heard the swoosh sound of the net or the echo of dribbling a ball since July.

There are also some really bizarre stories, such as Norris Cole playing 40 seconds for ASVEL in France before leaving the game, knowing he tested positive to COVID. According to reports, ASVEL learned that Cole tested positive but was already registered in the starting five for the game vs Cholet. Thus, Cole had to start the game, and came out 40 seconds later once it stopped. Mayor of the city of Cholet Gilles Bourdouleix was furious, claiming he’d sue ASVEL and the LNB. Whether it’s linked to Cole or not, Cholet has since fallen victim to several COVID cases.

The Euroleague suffered a great loss of respect from its clubs, players and fans after sentencing Zenit Saint Petersburg with not ONE, but TWO technical 20-0 loses due to the Russian’s inability to travel because of an outbreak of COVID cases. Recently the Euroleague rescinded its position and canceled the clause in their regulations book that determines games with such outrageous outcomes. Khimki though remained furious as the Euroleague denied their request to postpone games due to lack of athletic personnel which caused them to lose. For Zenit the technical losses were rescinded; but for Khimki - they can’t replay games - causing more friction in trust in the Euroleague after granting different treatment and standards to different clubs.

It is no one’s fault that players and coaches are positive to COVID, but we must do everything to keep the purity of the game and not let politics influence our sport. Shaquelle O'neal say the Lakers’ Championship has an asterisk to it because it took place in a bubble with half the teams unavailable to attend. How silly would the Euroleague look if the 2020-2021 winners were crowned based on having more healthy personnel at that time?! Truly comical.

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