The distance between Villanova, Pa., and Toronto is about 750 kilometres. Yet the situation that Alvin Williams is facing is no different than that of many parents in Ontario.
The retired Toronto Raptors guard is a father of three children — aged 3, 6 and 13 — and they are all home from school due to closures stemming from concerns about COVID-19.
“They are home all the time, man,” Williams says with a laugh over the phone. He’s driving from his sister’s place on the outskirts of Philadelphia and the momentary dose of humour is a respite from the seriousness of what’s going on.
Williams, 45, has been working collectively with his two sisters to care for their elderly parents. His father receives dialysis and his mother requires medicine, so the Williams children have been maneuvering around shutdowns in Montgomery County to make sure their parents have what they need.
“The last thing you want to do is be running out of medicine and everything is shut down,” says Williams. “My parents aren’t in a position where they can miss days upon weeks without getting their medicine. It’s something you really gotta be proactive and thoughtful with when you’re dealing with these situations.”
As of Tuesday morning, there were 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, in Pennsylvania. In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency with the total number of cases standing at 177.
Sportsnet caught up with Williams, who spent parts of eight seasons with the Raptors, to get his thoughts on the suspension of the NBA, what it’s like for a young player to be inactive and the potential end of old friend Vince Carter’s career.
Sportsnet: What was going through your mind when you first heard that the NBA was suspending its season?
Alvin Williams: It was something where you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ You’ve been hearing about the coronavirus for a long time. You’ve been hearing about it in other countries. But … it never really resonates until it hits home or someone close to you. Sports is close to me. When you talk about a whole league shutting down, you never know. And then you start hearing about how long it possibly can be shut down and then you start thinking about the effects … how it really affects a lot of people from different aspects. Not just the fans, but more importantly, the employees. People that rely on these jobs and rely on games. It really was something that had to sit in [you] for a while before you really felt the impact.
What’s your level of interest in following the day-to-day on goings of the NBA season? How much does this impact you, if at all?
I’m watching. Keeping in tune. Just as a fan, I keep in tune. And my other business, having a wealth-advisory firm (Procapita) geared toward athletes, I gotta stay in tune with who’s who and what they’re doing and where they are.
Have you been in contact with any NBA players since the shutdown?
Only Kyle Lowry. He’s a very close friend of mine. I love him to death. Once all this stuff happened, he just finished playing Utah. I reached out to him, asked if he was alright and made sure he was…. He said he was OK and everything was alright…. That was the only person that I’ve talked to. I haven’t talked to him since [the Raptors went into self-isolation].
You were a second-year player during the 1998–99 lockout. As a young guy who was relatively unestablished, how did you handle the inactivity compared to some of your veteran Raptors teammates?
It affects a young player a lot of ways. As a young player, you think you’re invincible and think you’re going to play forever. You’re also eager to go out there and play, especially if you’re playing well and things are going your way individually, or as a team. You want to get back out there and play, but you don’t think of the ramifications of what’s going on. The older player, they may have children, they may have a family. Your priorities and your focus shift a little bit [when you get older]. But as a younger player, man, you probably just want to get out there and play. You might think it’s not that big of a deal.
When you’re young, you don’t understand everything that comes with this side of the business and the ramifications to your health. There’s an eagerness, but hopefully, [in today’s case] there’s an understanding of why things are taking place.
Athletes are pretty regimented. Can you give me insight into the mindset of an NBA player whose structured routine is now potentially in flux?
You might have some players who are happy that there’s a break…. [In my case,] the whole season was really curt short, but we never expected for it to go that long. We always prepared to go right back to work. I’m sure the players aren’t expecting it to go that long. Even though the information is out there where it possibly can. But I’m sure as a player, you are just uncertain and you just try to keep yourself prepared as much as possible, because when the bell rings, you have to be ready to answer it.
I have to ask you about Vince Carter, who may have played his final game in the NBA. And it was on short notice, too. What are your thoughts on how that unfolded with your friend and former teammate?
I love Vince to death and I can only imagine what it was like for him. It’s just another aspect of life — you just never know when things are going to happen. You can prepare for your last game and what you’re going to do for your last game or how you’re going to celebrate your last game, and then something like this happens and your last game could be it. I used to remember Allen Iverson say, “I always play this game like it’s my last game.” That was a mantra when we were coming up because it meant so much to you.
Do you guys keep in touch?
Periodically. Not daily. But if something happens on the court or if I see or hear something or a memory comes up, I might shoot him a text. It’s always fun, getting a little laugh from him. But I haven’t talked to VC in a little bit now. I didn’t [text him after the game].
What do you think the next step is for him?
Whatever he wants to do. I don’t know what his outside interests are or what he’s been doing throughout his career that could lead to an outside profession in the next stage of life. But as for the media scene, who’s better than Vince Carter? He’s someone who’s lived it, done it at a high level. He has the utmost respect. He’s impacted the game in a way that not many people can say they have. And on top of that, he knows the game.
From a broadcaster’s standpoint, it seems like the perfect fit. But all the things I mentioned can transfer into anything else he wants to do in life. Highly intelligent, a lot of experience in different facets. Whatever he wants to do, he’s gonna be just like he was as a player — top notch.