Like most of you, my next two weeks were supposed to be my favorite two weeks of the year. Just non-stop basketball, from conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament, with plenty of insanity along the way.
Like most of you, I was sad when the conference tournament cancelations started and crushed when the NCAA ultimately made the correct decision to cancel March Madness amid the nation’s COVID-19 outbreak. I was supposed to bounce from Barclays Center to Madison Square Garden all week, covering the Atlantic 10 for this site and the Big East for SBNation.com.
Champ Week and NCAA Tournament week have always meant a lot to me. It meant more this year.
On Tuesday, the day before my fun was supposed to begin, I lost my full-time job.
It’s still weird typing and reading those words. In some ways, it hasn’t sunk in yet, simply because I was supposed to be on PTO while I covered basketball for this site. I miss the people I work with, the clients we served, and, yes, even the work itself. Suddenly not having any real employment-related responsibilities leaves a weird void.
I want to make it clear that I hold no ill will toward my former employer. This was a layoff that they were not happy about having to make, and I wish them the best. It just sucks.
When I left work on Tuesday night, I started wandering aimlessly through New York’s Financial District. Well, not totally aimlessly. The first thing I had to do now that I was unemployed was spend hundreds of dollars on a new computer. The one I had been using belonged to my now-former job, so that stayed in the office, along with everything I had on it. If my computer hadn’t crashed that day, I may have been able to salvage something. Instead, my virtual life fell apart the same day my professional one did.
I called my parents and cried. I called my friends and held back tears. My sister, Molly, was already on her way into the city because we were going to celebrate my 30th birthday together. Instead, we met up and drank a little bit and I cried some more. I’m still not sure what exactly I was crying over. I wasn’t really sad. I think I was more scared than anything, and I still am. I’m terrified.
But at least I had basketball to look forward to the next day. At least I could take my mind off the uncertainty. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression in the past, and my biggest worry — more than not knowing what would happen if I can’t land another job — was whether this sudden change would make me spiral again. After all, the matters that used to set me off were (in hindsight) far more trivial. Maybe basketball would keep me afloat while I figured things out.
Sometime that night, I fell asleep. When I awoke the next morning, I just wanted to watch basketball. Coronavirus concerns were in the back of my mind, but like many, I had no idea what was to come and never for a second thought that the tournaments would be canceled.
I got to Barclays Center around 11 a.m., about 18 hours after losing my job. Finally, I felt a sense of peace. An A-10 spokesperson assured me that the tournament was still on, spectators and all, and I relaxed a little more. I then took advantage of the free media meal: salmon, rice, broccoli, and Caesar salad. Not bad for a bum with no real job apart from blogging and making jokes about Jay Wright on Twitter!
I watched George Mason beat Saint Joseph’s in a game no one will remember. The second game, between Fordham and George Washington, was when things escalated. The CBI was canceled (big whoop), then the governor of Ohio announced that fans would not be allowed into the First Four. I wrote that up quickly from my seat court-side, hoping this wasn’t another domino in something catastrophic for the sport. It’s all a blur to me, but sometime after that, the NCAA decided to ban fans entirely. News then broke that canceling the NCAA Tournament altogether was also an option.
There was no way that was going to happen. There was far too much money at stake. I left Barclays midway through the second half to go to MSG. I had been to 20 consecutive Big East Tournaments and I was going to keep that streak alive. By the time I arrived, conferences had started announcing that they would also limit fan access this week. I didn’t want that to extend to the Big East — a crowded MSG is what makes this tournament so great — but figured it was inevitable. That was confirmed sometime during the first-round doubleheader that night. During that first postgame press conference, word got out that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for Coronavirus. The NBA, almost immediately, suspended its season. As reporters left that press conference, no one was talking about St. John’s’ wild win over Georgetown. It was that the cancelations had started.
It wasn’t until then that I realized everything actually might be scrapped. My next thought: What the hell would I do? I was holding up okay personally, save for a few waves of anxiety and sadness that I’d been able to wipe away by refocusing on the court. If I suddenly didn’t have basketball to watch, what would happen? The thought of sitting in my apartment for two weeks with nothing to do scared me more than anything. I knew I needed to use that time to apply for jobs and try to find work any way possible, but I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to do that.
Every minute from that point forward was a victory if college basketball was still on. I wasn’t thinking about what the right move was from a public health standpoint. Deep down I knew canceling everything was the smart decision. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it. There was still basketball at that point and it made me more comfortable.
From the minute the second game ended to the minute I went to sleep, I was monitoring Twitter. I expected the bad news to come at any moment. I nearly walked right into traffic on West 97th Street as I made the trip home, hoping my phone would bring me an update. I got nothing. I woke up the next morning. Still nothing.
When I got to the Garden that morning, I knew I was covering the spectacle more than the games. I talked to the Creighton cheer coach to find out why the hell they were going to perform in an empty arena. I asked someone from St. John’s about the same thing. Both gave me a version of “we’re wherever the team goes and will perform no matter who is in the stands.” I liked that. At that moment, I had no idea that the Big Ten had announced its tournament was canceled.
Another first domino to fall.
The AAC followed suit, then the SEC, and soon everyone BUT the Big East. I got to watch an extra half of basketball — a victory for me, even if it was at the expense of common sense.
When the tournament was finally called, I lingered at the Garden for as long as I could. I ate a sandwich, wrote up a story, and submitted it. Only when the MSG staff started breaking the tables down in the media work room did I get up and leave.
When I got back to my neighborhood I stocked up on supplies because that’s what we’re doing now, I guess. Then I took a nap.
I’ve passed my resume off to a few people in the meantime and have applied for a few jobs. I have a growing list of more that I will apply for in the coming days. For now, I’m alright and catching up on TV while I work.
This just would have been easier with some basketball to get me through it.