Life on the road for NBA teams in 2021 isn’t very fun. That’s probably true for pretty much everyone, everywhere, no matter their job right now, but it doesn’t make the process of traveling around the country during a pandemic any more enjoyable for players and staffers on the Lakers.
“Obviously it still is a mental toll. Everybody is locked away in their rooms and it’s still a pandemic out here,” said Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma on Thursday after the team’s 107-92 loss to the Detroit Pistons. “That’s not an excuse to lose at all, but just every day, human life, yeah, for sure, it’s always going to be a mental toll.”
To be honest, “every day, human life, yeah, for sure, it’s always going to be a mental toll” might be the most accurate possible description of life in 2021 (NBA players, they’re just like us!). And no one is going to feel sorry for millionaires when we’re all isolated from loved ones and going through it.
Still, we can try to empathize with what the Lakers are dealing with, at least to some degree. The road is normally a place for teammates to bond and have fun. The Lakers’ team dinners and gatherings to build chemistry were a big part of how they constructed the foundations of last year’s title run. Now the road is just a place to be by yourself in a hotel room, away from family, without teammates to hang out with. For anyone living on their own, LeBron James’ road experience in his solitary — albeit surely very nice — hotel room while missing his kids is probably at least a little relatable.
“Watching a couple shows on Netflix and on Showtime, and drinking some wine. It’s perfect,” James cracked, that last part appearing to be more his sardonic wit than a genuine admission of enjoyment, even if he knows every team has to deal with it. James — who hated the bubble so much he counted every day and night he was there and says he’ll “never forget” the tally of 96 days and 95 nights — is trying to lose track of how much he’s away from his wife and kids this season.
“You can’t really let your mind grasp how many days you’ve been on the road,” James said. “Every team does it. Every team has a long road trip, we’re professionals.”
For his part, Kuzma has spoken at length on multiple occasions about how the Lakers want to keep each other safe from the coronavirus. It’s surely a factor in their lack of practices — and definitely is in their lack of bonding time — but it’s left them all a bit isolated on the road as a result.
“There’s not too much bonding. Obviously the NBA has very, very strict regulations to keep everyone safe. Obviously we have our little contact-tracing bells, and just being safe and being precautious. You don’t want to be around too many people,” Kuzma said. “You see a team like Washington have to postpone games, six, seven, eight people in the organization (getting infected), that would hurt you. Especially if you have championship aspirations.
“This season is much different because every game kind of matters when you’re talking about seeding,” Kuzma continued. “Having an outbreak, especially in the West, could be the difference between finishing 2 and 6. And hopefully we don’t get to that point, but we kind of just are professional about it and stay safe and keep it simple.”
How seriously are the Lakers taking it? Despite breathing and sweating all over each other for three-ish hours every few days, they can’t even get together for a masked game of cards, 6-10 feet apart.
“I mean that would make sense, but then you’re touching the cards, so I’m not sure the NBA would like that,” Kuzma said.
Again, Kuzma, LeBron and the rest of the Lakers surely get that no one is going to feel that sorry for them as they traipse around the country, making millions of dollars to play a child’s game while tons of people are out of work. But it still is worth noting how seriously this team is taking the protocols as they try to defend their title, and acknowledging the mental toll that all this isolation is taking on all of us. No one is without struggles right now, and that includes the Lakers. It’s just another reminder that we should all try to empathize with each other as much as we can. Everyone is going through something.