Sam Shepherd drove 40 minutes from Clinton, Maryland, to Arlington, Virginia, so he could participate in a local pickup basketball game at Quincy Park. It was March 17 and by then, the NBA season had been suspended and the NCAA Tournament had been canceled. But on this green-colored court, Sheppard could still get his basketball fix.
For the next two hours, Shepherd, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, called out defensive coverages, took defenders to the post and raced in transition.
As people had begun social distancing due to the coronavirus outbreak, the 29-year-old electrician was determined to play his favorite sport.
“I’m just trying to stay fit, man,” Shepherd said.
That was then. Last week, Arlington County joined a sea of other districts that have closed its public parks in an effort to slow the outbreak of COVID-19. As professional sports have been sidelined, even those looking to participate in sports recreationally have been stuck inside.
In Baltimore, the department of parks and recreation went as far as to remove the rims on hoops.
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the removal of 80 hoops at courts around the city, including at the legendary Rucker Park — a breeding ground for some of the sport’s best players.
The CDC recommends standing 6 to 8 feet apart and the cancelation of groups with 10 or more people, making a game of pickup unviable.
“I play basketball,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week at a press conference. “There’s no concept of social distancing while playing basketball. It doesn’t exist. You can’t stay six feet away from a person while playing basketball.
“You can, but then you’re a lousy basketball player and you’re going to lose. You just cannot do that.”
Before the closures, those involved in the pickup game at Quincy Park had tried to put in some guidelines of social distancing, even as players weren’t shy in initiating contact with the defender in front of them. Instead of high-fives, players celebrated plays by bumping elbows.
Yet, it’s not hard to see why parks were soon shut down. Asked if the coronavirus outbreak had given them pause about playing pickup, a number of players at Quincy Park said they’d rather take the risk of being outdoors.
“I feel like we’ve got to get out somehow,” 23-year-old James Wang said. “Just being straight up, I’m not going to stay at home 24/7, this is my fix, just coming out and getting all my energy out before I go home.”
“A lot of these guys are healthy, young,” said 33-year-old Octavius Douglas. “That helps. My thing is, if you’re gonna contract it, you’re gonna contract it.”
“We all do it for the love of the sport,” Shepherd said.
More than 100,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. so far with over 2,000 deaths. Outdoor games had been of the last remaining options for those looking to play basketball. Virginia resident Pete Bachrach, for instance, saw his weekly pickup game at a Falls Church elementary school come to a halt because the space they rented out indefinitely closed. Indoor gyms have shut down, as well.
Evan Manuel, a 20-year-old junior at VCU, had been looking forward to coming back to the District for spring break. Every time he’d come back from college, Manuel would reunite with his friends to play indoor basketball at American University.
That didn’t happen this year.
“We all agreed,” Manuel said, “it’s just not worth it.”
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