It’s a reward that signifies the times.
Win your first-round playoff battle and you’ll get to see your family. Sure, losing means you’re going home to see your family anyway, but the first option gives you the best of both worlds.
The Toronto Raptors swept the Brooklyn Nets and after a humbling loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, there was no better tonic than to see some loved ones.
“Just excited, I miss my family. Family is huge for me,” Fred VanVleet said. “It's been a while. I think the last time I saw them was Father's Day. It's been a while, but it will be good to see everybody. And right on time after getting our butts kicked yesterday. So that'll kinda take my mind off of it for a little bit, and then I'll get prepared and get locked in for the game.”
Father’s Day was 70 days ago. The Raptors were the first team to enter Florida (besides Orlando and Miami for obvious reasons) in an effort to minimize their quarantine time as opposed to having to quarantine in Canada and then the United States. The organization did its best to make the Grand Destino hotel at Disney World feel as homey as possible, filling the players’ rooms with photographs of family members to add a personal touch.
Nothing can replicate the real presence of family and close friends, though, and after a long, tough nine weeks, the tenth week took things into extreme overdrive with the shooting of Jacob Blake and the ensuing strike that saw players refuse to play games on Aug. 26 to 28 in an effort to create more tangible actions from the NBA’s Board of Governors.
“Here, obviously, everything gets magnified for us because we have no outlet and all we have is each other.” - Marc Gasol
This was always going to be an enormous ask of the players: Come play in a bubble environment, have only online access to your friends and family, keep the conversation on the fight against racial inequality going, and play basketball at an elite level. Toronto has an extremely close-knit team, but there’s only so much they can be there for each other off the court.
How much the players missed their loved ones was evident when the Raptors had family members introduce the starting lineups in Game 1 against the Nets. Pascal Siakam was hysterical seeing his brother Christian do his introduction, OG Anunoby’s intro was just as you’d expect, and Kyle Lowry’s kids, Karter and Kameron, got their dad more amped than anyone.
There are some players on the team who elected not to have their family members enter the Orlando bubble to accompany them, though, Marc Gasol among them.
“Everyone is different, and everyone has a different read on the situation,” Gasol said. “And I think obviously we all miss our loved ones, but we all have different needs, and we all, I can't answer that question for anybody else. I don't think it would be fair for me.”
Spain was one of the hardest hit countries by the coronavirus and its impact likely lingers deep for Gasol. Both of his parents are members of the medical community as well, with his mother Marisa a doctor and father Agusti having worked as a nursing administrator. His wife and kids have been in Spain, close to their other relatives. It’s incredibly unselfish of Gasol to acknowledge that it might be unfair of him to ask they leave all of those relatives and take on traveling in these times from Spain to the United States, quarantine outside the bubble, then enter the bubble and follow all the protocols.
Gasol will continue leaning on his teammates and focusing on the game itself. He has been struggling on the court since entering the bubble, shooting just 25.7 percent from beyond the arc, and as much as Gasol would love to see his family, he insists that all he can do to fix his struggles is look in the mirror and challenge himself to be better going forward.
“Obviously, we have each other and we talk about it, we can find a lot of things but, again, at the end of day what I like the most is look at yourself in the mirror,” Gasol said. “That, to me, is the ultimate test. You look at yourself in the mirror. Did you give it your best? Obviously we all try to make every shot that we take but unfortunately we don’t make every shot that we take but beyond that, are you executing what you need to execute, are you working as hard as you can for your teammates, are you doing everything you can?
“And the only one that eventually knows that is yourself and that’s why I like the mirror so much. You have to face that guy.”
From here on out, the Raptors will have players managing themselves from either side of the coin. Some looking in the mirror, some enjoying the company of their family. But when it comes to figuring out a way to win on the court, it still comes down to the relationships they’ve built with their teammates.
“Nobody likes to lose, man, nobody likes losing, especially in the playoffs,” Gasol said. “Here, where we’re at, I don’t know from the outside, but here, obviously, everything gets magnified for us because we have no outlet and all we have is each other.”