COVID-19 has upended the world in every way imaginable, and the world of international basketball is no exception. Since the Coronavirus has been rampant in Europe longer than it has been in the United States, international basketball players have been exposed to the struggles and difficulties of living through a pandemic for a long time. In addition, the influx of American basketball players in other countries means that they have an interesting perspective. One of these players is Byron Richards, an American who's been playing for CB Benicarlo in Spain for the past four seasons. We caught up with Byron about what it's been like these past few months.
A Coronavirus Perspective from Byron Richards
Ballers Abroad: A lot of players have stay put where they are, or decide to immediately come back to the United States. Where have you been staying during quarantine, and how long do you think you'll be there?
Byron Richards: Thanks for having me! I've been quarantining at my apartment in our town here in Benicarlo. For a long time I had no idea of how long I was going to be here, but I have finally gotten my flight ticket for June 26th to return home to the States. My entire team had vacated the town the weekend of March 13th, the same weekend that it was announced that the next 2 weeks of play were to be cancelled (at the time). I remember so vividly because that was the last day that bars and restaurants would be open in town, and our team and directive had a meeting that night. That was a Friday. By Monday, everyone on my team had returned to their homes and countries. Only myself and one other player stayed in town. At the time a lot of the Spanish region borders were rumored to be shutting down that same night, so many players were concerned about getting stuck here for the entire duration of this lock-down, and no one had any grasp of how long this would last. (seems like we still aren't exactly clear on that) For me personally, I have played so many seasons here so I was already very comfortable staying and waiting it out for while.
The season was in limbo for almost three months before the decision was made to cancel - that's a long time! What were communications like? How did your team/league handle this period of uncertainty?
BR: There wasn't much communication with our team once we all split up, but as so much was in the air and so much was undecided, there wasn't much to discuss. This was a situation that was almost impossible to prepare for, so I'm not really in a position to judge how anyone handled it. It was clear that our games and our season were going to be cancelled, since basically every team's foreign players headed home that week in March. If they had decided to continue the season somehow, a lot of clubs would have needed to fly all those players back and get them back in shape. On top of this, the games would have certainly been no fans allowed, so there wouldn't have been much money coming in, and our league (LEB Plata) relies heavily on that revenue. So even though it took some time for the league to announce its plans, I think we all knew that was going to be the deal. I don't think many players felt it was a period of uncertainty; we had all kind of assumed the season was over, nobody was here to even start playing, a season restart in the spring or even summer would have been difficult and expensive.
What have you been doing to stay in-shape/game-ready?
BR: During these 90+ days of quarantine I workout in my apartment daily. I do a lot of calisthenics and stretching, and also exercise through Martial Arts training. Now we are in Phase 2 (and about to start Phase 3) in my region, which opens up for many new rules and opportunities and me. But as any good player would tell you, there's no fully accurate simulation to stay ready other than playing basketball, so unfortunately I am sure if I'm 'game-ready' shape, but I think I'm in very good shape given my circumstances.
Now that most leagues have made decisions on whether to cancel or continue their seasons, a lot of players/leagues are looking to next season. What do you think of the prospects for American players playing overseas next season?
BR: This is a broad topic; I would say it depends on the league and the country. Here in Spain, I've heard the rules for American players in certain leagues were already set to change pre-COVID. For example, the rules on the number of Americans in EBA and also in LEB Plata were going to be discussed to change the amount of players allowed to a team. I'm not sure if it will go through but that was already a topic, so it might be more difficult for players to find jobs here. But at the end of the day, getting buckets is what talks, so I believe the best players will still have options, especially in the higher leagues.
I hear you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
BR: Thanks for having me! I appreciate all that you guys do to allow us guys overseas to have this platform!!