For Avery Bradley, family comes first

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The thing no one tells you when you become a parent is that you suddenly begin to picture yourself in the shoes of other parents, parents that you see, parents that you read about, parents that you know.

You feel immense sympathy for other families who are struggling to make it through tough times. You summon up righteous anger for parents who can’t be bothered to provide basic necessities or care or affection for their kids. And you find yourself wondering, “What would I do, as a parent, in this situation?” when life throws curveballs some other parents’ way.

All of that is probably why the news that Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley would not be joining his squad in Orlando, when the 2019-2020 NBA season begins anew, hit me differently, now that I’m a father.

Bradley’s reason for missing out on the opportunity to win a ring alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis? Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com:

At the forefront of Bradley’s decision to remain with his family is the well-being of his oldest child, his 6-year-old son, Liam. Bradley and his wife, Ashley, have three children.

Liam Bradley has a history of struggling to recover from respiratory illnesses, and it’s unlikely that he would have been medically cleared to enter the Orlando bubble with his family.

“As committed to my Lakers teammates and the organization as I am, I ultimately play basketball for my family,” Avery Bradley said. “And so, at a time like this, I can’t imagine making any decision that might put my family’s health and well-being at even the slightest risk.

We often tell ourselves that “Ball is life.” As fans of basketball teams, we would like to think that the players on said teams are dedicating 110% of themselves to the task of winning a title. But that cloud of fandom often hides the fact that these players are human beings, not robots. While we would want them to get back on the court, to entertain and distract us amidst this pandemic, they have their own priorities, one of which could be the health of their loved ones close to them.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the NBA is not twisting their players’ arms to get back out on the court. The league’s “bubble” plan in Orlando has a massive 100+ page health and safety protocol document attached to it, and its length is not just for show. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has publicly backed this safety framework, and even suggested that other US pro leagues could use it as an example.

This trip into the bubble is not mandatory either, despite of all the precautions in place. Players can opt not to return, the path Bradley is taking, though they won’t be paid by the team for that period of time. Furthermore, teams can also designate “protected” players, those at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, which means they wouldn’t have to go, but still get their paychecks.

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With all that said though, there is just no way to 100 percent guarantee that someone, a player, a coach, a physical therapist, a guest, doesn’t test positive. One of the flaws of the “bubble” plan is that while NBA-related personnel are essentially quarantined inside, Disney staff, the ones servicing the hotels and arenas, will be able to come and go, and will only receive daily temperature checks. That can be particularly worrisome, given the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Florida, and so you can see why players like Bradley, would be worried.

It would be too easy to paint Bradley as a hero. Like Kyrie Irving, Bradley was a major proponent of having the NBA focus more on social justice reform, and less on getting the season back up and running. Unlike Irving, who is injured, won’t have to go to Orlando, but will still be paid his full salary, Bradley is putting money, $650,000, according to Woj, where his mouth is, by opting to stay with his family.

It would be too easy as well to paint Bradley as a villain, someone who is not a team player, hindi nakikisama. No doubt, there is a section of Lakers fandom (the dark side, Temecula, most likely) that has already turned on him for weakening the team’s chances at ending their championship drought.

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I just think of him as a dad, applying dad-calculus to a situation, and going with what best helps his family, the same calculus that leads to us wearing masks, washing hands for 20 seconds, and enduring multiple temperature checks when leaving the house.

For Bradley, winning a championship would have been great. Ending his season on a high, with a player option looming, would definitely be sweet.

Minimizing the risk to his three children though? Unparalleled.

It probably wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the one he opted for. And I’d like to think that had I been in Bradley’s shoes, it would be the one I would make as well.

Besides, the Lakers’ reported next move, signing JR Smith to fill Bradley’s roster spot, will give us plenty more comedy potential anyway.