OKC Thunder: Players family reunions on horizon

The OKC Thunder wore the toll of the emotional week in their loss Saturday but they’ll enter this week knowing they’ll reunite with family soon.

The NBA resumed this weekend after a three-day stoppage with six teams playing Saturday, August 29th. The same six teams originally slated to play on Wednesday, August 26th. One of those teams was the OKC Thunder who lost Game 5 in a blowout to the Rockets. The Thunder wore the emotional toll of the week outwardly.

The initial domino that fell was courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks who boycotted their fifth game versus the Orlando Magic on a night they could clinch their berth to the conference semi-finals. It was a last-minute decision by the Bucks to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake who was shot by a Kenosha Wisconsin officer while his three young sons sat in the same car he was attempting to get into.

This action may have been precipitated by the Raptors and Celtics who were already leaning in the direction of a boycott and had met once with another meeting scheduled for that evening. Given Kenosha, Wisconsin is less than 45 minutes from Fiserv Forum it seemed logical the Bucks would be the team who would be the NBA team who would elect to boycott.

Games for Thursday and Friday were similarly postponed as the 13 teams still in the bubble met to discuss whether their presence in the bubble was having any positive impact on the outside world. In truth, the isolation of the bubble was taking a toll. Players haven’t seen their families or loved ones for over seven weeks and in the case of the Raptors, nine-weeks.

The countdown for OKC Thunder players family reunions is on

That fact will change on Monday for the Celtics, Raptors, and Heat who’ve already clinched their conference semi-final berth. The family and friends of that trio of teams are quarantining. I’m not sure of the semantics for teams like the Bucks and Lakers who have since clinched their series or the other three teams yet to solidify their second-round berth. Families may have been brought in early in case the team’s progress but regardless the second-round teams will be reunited with loved ones shortly.

Many players have young children and were hit hard by not being able to discuss the recent incident in person with their sons and daughters. It seemed entirely possible as of late Wednesday the season that a pandemic couldn’t stop would be halted by this recent event.

Factor in that the bubble was definitely taking a toll as players were outwardly wearing the isolation they were feeling. Members of the media who were in the bubble and aren’t any longer spoke of how insulated they felt and emphasized with the difficulties the players are dealing with stating it increased exponentially the longer they were there. Adding to their stress was not feeling they had an accurate read of how effective their messages and statements have been or if they’d reached fans and those they were hoping to help.

In the end, the three-day pause was something the players needed. First, to rest their minds from mental exhaustion.  Second, to talk among their peers and recognize they wanted to create a plan with proactive actions versus being reactionary.

Ask yourself which one player of all 13 teams in the bubble needed the mental rest the most. It would be hard to imagine Chris Paul isn’t at the top of every analyst or pundit’s list if they were posed that question.

If players are feeling the pinch of isolation and missing their families — imagine how exhausted Chris Paul must be! He’s missing his family as he spoke about. He’s got the weight of trying to keep this young OKC Thunder squad the dark horse who actually keeps their clutch persona rolling in this first-round series and he’s working what is, in essence, a full-time job with the NBPA. If he looked a little off in Game 5 of the OKC Thunder – Rockets series it’s more than understandable.

To that end, no one was under more pressure than Paul

The players reconvened Thursday and quickly elected to resume the season (only the Lakers and Clippers said no in the initial poll Wednesday night when emotions were running high). Later that day, two representatives from every team (the Lakers sent four) met with the board of governors and mutually agreed on what that plan would entail.

On Friday as Chris Paul spoke to the media the emotion in his voice was palpable when he cited not being able to be with his son Chris Jr. during this time. Likewise, the pride for the players association he serves as president of was evident.

Paul was arguably the busiest NBA player throughout the hiatus as he worked with stakeholders to bring basketball back while ensuring the player’s goals of having a positive impact on legislative and social justice reforms were met. If there was one commonality of Paul’s focus and emphasis from March 12th through to the pivotal player meetings on Wednesday and Thursday it was for the player’s association to be united in their stance.

The veteran point guard gushed over that solidarity on Friday, saying it’s the most cohesive and united front he’s witnessed in his 15-year career.

While most players in the bubble are spending their time in practice sessions, games and then keeping themselves entertained via golfing and fishing CP3 is essentially working on his time off as the NBPA president.

Consider his timeline over the past few days. There were the meetings Wednesday and Thursday with the players. Another meeting with the board of governors, and trying to fit in practice with a primarily youthful squad in this timeframe.

On top of that, discussions and meetings with individuals he knew could help accomplish the goals of the players association. Paul went through that maelstrom of events in LA when Clippers owner Donald Sterling was stripped of his ownership and banned for life after his racist comments became public. This occurred in the middle of the 2014 playoffs and the principal people in the team who navigated that storm to keep the team focused on basketball were Paul and his former coach Doc Rivers.

Paul called upon Doc to be present at the Wednesday meeting and offer insight. Ironically, it was Rivers’ player Patrick Beverley who asked the coaches to leave the room during the initial poll on whether the players wanted to cancel the season or resume play (so players could vote without reservation). But, then it was only the Clippers and Lakers who voted to cancel the season although they changed their stance by the next day.

Then Michael Jordan asked to speak to Paul and Russell Westbrook (who coincidentally both happen to be sponsored by the Jordan brand) prior to the player representative, BOG meeting so he could help drive the talking points the NBPA wanted and essentially bridge the gap between players and owners having worn both hats.

Pretty heady company Paul is keeping. Not to mention the countless calls and discussions he’s had with Michelle Roberts, Adam Silver, and numerous peers.

Paul has to be feeling the wear and tear of so many responsibilities but the good news is one way or another he’ll be seeing his family soon. If they lose on Monday I’m unsure if he would head back to LA or stay in the bubble for his NBPA role.

Presumably, his wife and children could still join him though. Obviously, the hope is the OKC Thunder play two more first-round games win them and move into the second round and again that would mean loved ones would go through quarantine and then join the players in the bubble.

It was clear in the loss to the Rockets on Saturday the OKC Thunder players were fatigued and given the youthful team, it’s more a matter of emotional exhaustion. With the knowledge, they’ll be reuniting with loved ones soon that should help pick up their spirits.

The OKC Thunder will play on Monday in a Game 6 they need to win to force the Game 7 on Wednesday and ultimately decide the winner of the series.

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