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Verlin: Getting back to basketball, eventually

08/26/2020, 12:30pm EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Who the hell could have ever predicted a summer like this? The entire country –– the entire world –– shut down by a virus, millions of people without jobs, millions more stuck at home with family, loved ones, or just themselves. As I write this, more than 175,000 Americans have died from COVID and its complications, and that number will continue to rise until there’s a cure.

And that’s only been one of the major domestic storylines over the last six months. Nationwide protests have sparked following the senseless deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the latest instances of police brutality and violence which have needlessly taken the lives of people –– especially BIPOC –– far too often, not just recently but throughout the history of this country. Arguments rage in political chambers, on streets and on social media.

In short, it’s been a strange time to run a website which covers a leisure activity that just happens to be taken seriously by millions of people, creating a multi-billion-dollar industry all centered around some talented athletes’ ability to put a medium-sized round ball through a metal hoop. And that’s not to demean basketball: this site wouldn’t exist if its creator didn’t also love the sport, and there’s nothing wrong with all the people who are trying to make a career in it.

But compared to the larger issues at hand, writing about basketball didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel needed, or useful; it felt like attempting to distract people from the very real issues at hand. I also know that there are many writers, including sportswriters, who are far more qualified and knowledgeable to write about these topics than I am, and I didn’t want to water down the discourse with my take.

When the country shut down in mid-March, we all retreated into our own bubbles. It was a waiting game to see if the PIAA playoffs could resume, but writing about that every day seemed like a waste of time: we all knew what was going on. As the pandemic numbers spread, it became quickly apparent that the lockdown would last more than a week or two, and writing about sports seemed even less interesting.

One month became two, two became three...I tried writing, but what was there to write about? There wasn’t much going on in terms of recruiting, a couple commitments, but there was still so much else happening in the public world.

If you know me, or follow me on social media, you know I’m a progressive who knows that Black Lives Matter and that policing in this country needs major reforms, but this site is meant to be a space for all those who are into local basketball. It’s also impossible to fully separate sports and politics, especially now as more and more student-athletes and professional athletes feel comfortable asserting their opinions and getting involved in the discourse. Figuring out that balance is obviously a challenge which pales in comparison to the difficulties people around the country are facing, but it’s a challenge nonetheless.

If you’ve read this site and my writing for a while, you know that mental health issues are my biggest struggle on a daily basis, and from that perspective this summer was a nightmare. All of those issues piled up, one on top of the other, and every attempt I made at writing a story ended in failure, which only added to the problems. I got off social media for two months just to relieve some of the load, and though it never really went away, it’s lessened enough to the point where I can start to be productive again.

On one hand, I know that none of the problems I talked about earlier are over with. The pandemic is still very much here, and I doubt it’ll go away until we have a vaccine, which could be sometime in 2021 if some of the current promising Phase III trials taking place around the world prove to be successful. And the civil unrest continues, with no clear end in sight.

Is there still a chance for a 2020-21 basketball season? I think so, even if that chance isn’t as large as I know many of you hope. I think there might be a way to make it work, to have SOME kind of competitions, though I don’t know if those games involve spectators, or even media. I don’t know if they would take place on home courts or at different facilities, if there will be full league schedules or just an abbreviated playoffs.

I’ve seen posts on social media that people like me who aren’t rushing to bring sports back ahead of a safe schedule are in some way happy that this is happening, that we don’t care about the people it affects, and that is completely untrue. I know that my heart goes out to all the high school seniors and juniors who have been most affected by this, the kids who are missing out on valuable learning time, growing time as people and players, and of course the critical recruiting hours playing in front of college coaches. I think constantly about the college players who are hoping to have their chances at championships, who’ve missed years due to injury that they’re hoping to get back, whose professional dreams are at the forefront of their minds. I think about the young writers and media hopefuls who are missing out on valuable learning time of their own. Now repeat that for every sport across the United States.

This country has real problems, and I don’t want to act like this is the time to ignore reality and focus once more on the bread and circuses.

But there are still stories to be told. There have been college commitments, coaching changes, and transfers. Coaches and players are finding ways to conduct workouts and get their names out to colleges, even without any live period tournaments or showcases. In one way or another, the show must go on.

So we’ll be getting back to work over the next coming weeks, starting to get to the stories we missed over the summer and catch you all up on the status of local hoops. There are a few small events not open to the public which we’ll try to pop in on, but most of the coverage for now is going to have to be done remotely. I’m going to use this time to experiment with some new content styles (video interviews?), try to raise some money for the site, and figure out what this season might look like, in order to plan some season preview content. (I’m also getting married this weekend, so don’t expect too many stories over the next few days.)

I didn’t write an anniversary note this summer, as had been CoBL tradition, so let me end with this:

To all our readers, thank you. You’ve stuck with us for eight years now, you’ve supported me through some really rough times, and been incredibly understanding when we disappear for a little bit. Without the local basketball community, there wouldn’t be a CoBL. Please stay safe out there, be considerate of others, and be optimistic that at some point in the near future, we’ll be able to improve these problems and make for a happier, safer world.

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