As the NBA prepares to restart the remainder of the 2019-20 season, there are differences abound.
For starters, the league is attempting to play amidst a raging pandemic.
On Wednesday, the state of Florida, the site of the NBA’s Return-to-Play, exceeded over 300,000 COVID-19 cases.
Players and coaches staying at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex must adopt strict health and safety guidelines.
Despite the changes, there is no doubt who the leader of the Toronto Raptors is.
“I think (the Raptors are) clearly Kyle’s [Lowry] team,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said to reporters on Tuesday. “His care factor is way up there. His intelligence factor is way up. I mean, we’re in good hands with him being the leader of this team.”
No doubt moving into the NBA bubble is hard on Lowry. If the Raptors have a lengthy playoff run, Lowry will be away from his family for almost three months.
This included missing his son, Kam’s, five-year-old birthday.
Not gonna lie I almost cried today because I’m so happy for my Kam turning the big 5.
Even though I’m not there I’m still there and I love you!!! You’re amazing,funny,and the smile you have will light up ANY… https://t.co/rH0HnzRGWN
— Kyle Lowry (@Klow7) July 15, 2020
“Not going to lie I almost cried today because I’m so happy for my Kam turning the big 5,” Lowry said in an Instagram post.
As the Raptor point guard told reporters, his children understand the sacrifice he is making to provide for the family. The leadership Lowry brings, on and off the court, will rub off on a Raptors team looking to defend the NBA championship.
Look no further than a year ago, when Lowry scored the Raptors first 11 points in their Finals-clinching Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors. Or a double-double 32 points and 10 assists when the Raptors overcame a 30-point deficit to defeat the Dallas Mavericks 110-107 last December.
Those two games were of a different world, where fans entered arenas and social distancing wasn’t a part of the daily vernacular.
Flash forward to the present, Lowry can still provide a similar impact.
“You know he’s always gonna play hard and make the defensive plays, but he’s got to be a main factor in the offense, and he kind of carries himself that way I think this year a lot more,” Nurse said. “… [I think] he’s going to be a hell of a player in the playoffs.”
The fiery nature Lowry brings to his game, from setting up pick and rolls to taking charges, also can be applied off the court. Whether it was being involved in the health and safety guidelines to walking in the George Floyd protests, Lowry exemplified leadership.
The pandemic and racial injustice present challenges more important than the outcome on the basketball court. But Lowry understands how his voice can be channeled to support the “Black Lives Matter” movement that so many of these NBA counterparts are fighting for.
“I grew up a Black man in America,” Lowry said. “It’s a tough thing to grow up that way, because you never know what could happen to you. You never know if you’re going to make it out. For me to be able to talk to you guys is a blessing. So, for me to be able to do that, it’s my right, my duty and my honour to represent the Black culture.”
With the NBA scheduled to return at the end of July, cautious optimism is evident.
There will be basketball, a partial return to normality. Uncertainty permeates the return with a raging pandemic occupying the backdrop.
For a battle-tested Raptors team, filled with championship DNA from last season, it is integral to possess a leader like Lowry.