Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley could not hide his nerves, as sweat dribbled down his forehead and pooled on his temples above a protective mask. The palms of his hands, which were covered with rubber gloves, had gotten clammy as he and his teammates sat in the visitors locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena and awaited the results of their coronavirus tests.
It was March 11, and Conley’s teammate, Rudy Gobert, had tested positive for COVID-19. While the Jazz sat in that Oklahoma City locker room waiting and wondering, NBA commissioner Adam Silver made the decision to suspend play across the league.
“Knee-jerk reaction, everybody blames the Jazz,” Conley said in a phone interview this week. “We’re looked at as the guys who started this whole thing and whatever. But once you step away and you’re able to view things, it is nobody’s fault. Fast-forward and now it’s an opportunity for us. We get to be on the forefront of helping change things.”
For Conley, being on the forefront starts with making a $200,000 donation to assist people experiencing homelessness and struggling to feed their families, as well as students who have shifted to remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Conley’s donation will be split between five organizations: the Utah Food Bank; CodeCrew in Memphis, Tennessee; the Community Shelter Board and Columbus Urban League in Ohio; the Indianapolis Public Schools foundation; and the New Haven Missionary Baptist Church in Arkansas.
“These communities that I chose are areas that I had a connection with,” Conley said. “Obviously, Memphis. I was born Arkansas, my family is in Arkansas. I play in Salt Lake. Indiana, I grew up there from age 9 into high school. And Columbus — being a Buckeye and that is where I am living now.”
Conley, a three-time winner of the NBA’s sportsmanship award, hopes the Jazz and the rest of the NBA can help lift the country’s spirit by safely resuming the season at some point this summer.
The 13-year veteran was one of two major acquisitions for Utah in the offseason, along with Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic had wrist surgery Tuesday, with ESPN reporting it would be season ending. It was a decision Bogdanovic made after consulting with the veteran point guard.
“I spoke to him at length on a phone call,” Conley said. “He is a guy who would play on that wrist for us in a heartbeat. He would’ve ran himself into the ground for us. He knows what he means to our team and how big of an impact he has both on and off the court.”
Bogdanovic’s absence will be felt, but the potential presence of an NBA revival months after the league came to a grinding halt that Wednesday night in March is a welcome turn of events for Conley.
“We understand the magnitude of what that would mean if the NBA would be able to return and get back to functioning at a high level,” Conley said. “I think that would just send a message throughout our nation that things are heading in the right direction.”