In Taiwan, Play Remains ‘Pseudo Normal’ for Pro Basketball

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As a pupil at George Washington University, Ben Metcalf labored as a Washington Wizards ball boy for a similar two seasons that the Wizards employed a taking pictures guard named Michael Jordan. Soon after, Metcalf was an intern within the Orlando Magic video room after they beat the Knicks on opening night time — after which misplaced 19 video games in a row.

Metcalf downplayed the novelty of such a particular begin to his climb within the sport with the declare that “every video guy has the same stories.” Yet it is going to be tougher for him to dispute the idiosyncratic nature of his newest résumé entry: Metcalf, 38, is an American head coach in Taiwan in what’s believed to be the one well known skilled basketball league on the earth at the moment operational throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The world well being disaster has shut down nearly each league on the basketball map, however not Taiwan’s Super Basketball League. So on Thursday night time, Metcalf coached the crew Taoyuan Pauian Archiland in an 85-77 loss to Bank of Taiwan, which was led by the previous Duke guard Matt Jones with 29 factors. Pauian performed Friday and can once more Saturday in its remaining two regular-season video games earlier than beginning the playoffs — all of which is scheduled to happen in a small fitness center with no followers in a modest model of the “bubble” atmosphere that the N.B.A. is more likely to attempt to replicate if situations within the United States enable the resumption of its suspended season.

“You turn on CNN or go on ESPN’s website and you realize: ‘Wow. We’re really the only people fortunate to still be able to do what we love,’” Metcalf stated in a phone interview. “I guess it says a lot about how Taiwan has taken care of the situation as a whole that we’re still able to play basketball.”

The S.B.L. certainly has some important benefits over the N.B.A., in addition to numerous leagues within the area which have both stalled of their efforts to relaunch (China) or determined to outright cancel the remainder of the season after unsuccessful restarts (Japan and South Korea). Taiwan’s league contains solely 5 groups — in a rustic that has coped with the coronavirus pandemic in addition to any. Despite its proximity and appreciable enterprise ties to China, the place the coronavirus initially unfold, Taiwan’s profitable containment — lower than 400 reported Covid-19 instances and solely six deaths as of April 10, in line with the island’s well being minister — has been attributed by many consultants to classes discovered and measures adopted after the outbreak of extreme acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

“Life here is pseudo normal,” Metcalf stated.

An order from the Taiwanese authorities nonetheless shut down all arenas beneath authorities management on March 19, suspending indoor occasions with greater than 100 individuals and all out of doors occasions with greater than 500. The S.B.L. initially deliberate to close down for 2 weeks however managed to relocate days later to the HaoYu Basketball Training Center to stage all video games there and guarantee gatherings within the constructing by no means stray past 100 occupants.

The solely individuals allowed inside, past the groups enjoying and the referees, are digital camera operators for the tv broadcasts, officers discovered on the scorer’s desk, and journalists at a press-row desk behind one of many baskets. Many working in these capacities, in addition to numerous crew staffers and inactive gamers on the bench, put on masks — with some pressured to look at in socks in the event that they overlook that solely rubber-soled footwear are permitted inside. Grey curtains hold over the home windows behind the other basket, overlaying the glass from an adjoining weight room so it stays hidden from TV viewers.

“It feels like an adult league,” stated Charles Garcia, Pauian’s star American import.

“It’s a rec center,” Metcalf stated, “for lack of a better term.”

Playing with out followers, to Garcia, is a giant turnoff. The well-traveled Los Angeles native, who performed professionally in 11 nations earlier than main the Taipei Fubon Braves to the Taiwanese title final season as finals M.V.P., strongly backed the current assertion by the Lakers famous person LeBron James that enjoying in an empty area can be unacceptable for the N.B.A.

“No way, no way, no way,” Garcia stated. “You need the fans. Where you going to find your energy? I can’t even imagine that in the N.B.A. That would be really tough.”

Of course, as Metcalf famous, whereas “it may be tough to imagine” James and the Lakers performing with out an viewers,” such is the unfold of the coronavirus on N.B.A. soil that “at this point there really doesn’t seem to be any other way.”

So maybe there’s something for the N.B.A. to glean from the S.B.L.’s expertise, even with the Taiwanese league’s a lot smaller scale.

When they arrive on the HaoYu door, S.B.L. gamers are greeted by league officers who verify their temperature with a brow thermometer and document the knowledge subsequent to every participant’s identify. It is assumed {that a} confirmed coronavirus case within the league would result in a direct suspension of S.B.L. play, however no Covid-19 testing is completed on website. Any participant with a temperature above 99.5 levels Fahrenheit is refused entry to the power.

Metcalf stated high-fives amongst Pauian gamers have been “outlawed.” They have rubbing alcohol sprayed on their palms as quickly as they exit layup traces and through timeouts by Penny Peng, the crew’s athletic coach. Peng additionally makes the gamers wash their palms totally at halftime and after the sport, however such mandates is probably not common. In Pauian’s current loss to first-place Taiwan Beer, opposing gamers could possibly be seen on a Twitch broadcast exchanging high-fives throughout pregame introductions.

Another massive change: Pauian’s official Facebook web page has seen an uptick in messages from presumed bettors from nations like India and Russia, searching for info on lineups and accidents amid a shortage of reside sports activities obtainable to gamblers.

The Chinese Basketball Association, with 20 groups in an enormous nation, is understandably seen as a extra consultant examine information for the N.B.A. It continues to inch nearer to a return after a stoppage that has lasted greater than three months. The former N.B.A. guard Pooh Jeter stated in a Twitter put up on Thursday that “it’s starting to be normal over here in China” and that his Fujian Sturgeons crew have begun training 5 on 5.

It is affordable to anticipate the N.B.A. to imitate a few of Pauian’s game-night protocols if it may in the end safe the wanted backing of presidency officers and public well being consultants to reopen. One proposed plan to doubtlessly resurrect the season requires convening groups at a centralized website, like Las Vegas, the place the N.B.A. already levels the G League Showcase each December with out followers.

Garcia, 31, is a former G League All-Star who additionally received a championship within the N.B.A.’s developmental league in 2011 with the Iowa Energy. Having performed within the G League Showcase, Garcia doubled down on his assertion that the setup is an unfit stage for the N.B.A.

“The only noise is from your teammates,” Garcia stated. “I don’t even drink Red Bull, but I’m drinking Red Bull now before a game to find energy. When I get a dunk, you want to scream, but you can’t. It’s pointless. So I just run back on defense.”

After stops in far-flung leagues as disparate as Bahrain, Iceland and the Philippines, Garcia appeared to have discovered a home in Taiwan. He started this season with the Fubon Braves alongside the N.B.A. veteran O.J. Mayo within the ASEAN League, which culled its 10 groups from eight nations. Garcia, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound ahead, then joined Pauian inside per week of the ASEAN League’s shutdown in March and shortly helped Metcalf’s crew assemble a five-game successful streak.

Garcia’s season, although, turned tragic on Wednesday when his father, Charles Sr., died of kidney failure at 59. The information reached Garcia within the midst of a two-game suspension for a current scuffle with the 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar, who briefly performed within the N.B.A. with the Sacramento Kings and commenced the season alongside Garcia and Mayo with the Braves. Rather than make his anticipated return to the lineup on Friday towards JeouTai and the league’s No. 2 scorer Franklin Session of Cal State Los Angeles, Garcia flew again home to California.

Pauian has additionally misplaced its finest outdoors shooter and sixth man — Lee Chi-Wei from the Taiwanese nationwide crew — to a damaged hand. Since it’s too late, in line with league rules, to switch Garcia on the roster with one other import, Metcalf experimented with some new rotations through the Bank of Taiwan loss, trying to find combos to compensate for all of the offense he has misplaced.

Born in Japan when his father was stationed there within the Navy, Metcalf has additionally lived in England and Turkey and moved to Taiwan in 2007 after working beneath 5 coaches in 4 N.B.A. seasons with the Magic in hopes of studying Mandarin. He initially deliberate to remain for “a couple years” however by no means left, marrying a Taiwan native and touchdown the Pauian job at age 33.

“This game takes us some strange places,” Metcalf stated.

With his 5-month-old son asleep, Metcalf then excused himself to benefit from the quiet in the home to renew watching recreation movie. One of teaching’s least glamorous pastimes, in these coronavirus occasions, is abruptly a privilege.

“Always a video guy at heart,” he stated.