It was a Saturday afternoon, March 7th 2020, when we walked up the stairs and through the giant glass doors. When we entered, we found ourselves surrounded by blank space and a handful of people. I didn’t know it yet, but a group that big, no more than twenty or thirty of us--unmasked--would soon be unheard of. We were there to see the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Denver Nuggets game. Just four days later, on Wednesday, March 11th, the NBA would suspend the entire basketball season when a player caught COVID-19. It might’ve been the final basketball game that spectators would ever be allowed to attend. But, we didn’t know that yet.
We’d gone for a normal enough reason: my home town school district was touring Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, where we’d see the different careeroptions in the sports industry, followed by a basketball game. Hours passed as we walked throughout the near-empty building. There, an empty cafe. Over there, an empty lounge. The tour guide’s voice echoed off of the too-tall rooms and too-wide walls. We passed a basketball that looked like a superhero had thrown it into the wall. Swoosh. The wall wrinkled and solidified around it. It was a moment caught in time.
We continued walking through the building and entered the lounge where the basketball players ate. Walking out of the red-carpeting dining area, I grabbed a squirt of hand sanitizer and showed my Dad. I said, “Look! Now I can say I took something from the player’s lounge!” I hadn’t cared whether or not my hands were sanitized.
We sat down in another empty room. My empty stomach growled curse words at the tour guides as they told us about different careers in the sports world. The speakers finished talking and the beast in my stomach prowled the empty hallways for an open concession stand. We found nachos and munched while overlooking the empty basketball court. The basketball players hadn’t yet arrived. There were no fans in the stands. At the time, the emptiness had been exciting. Looking back, the memory of excitement deserts me and I’m left with the overwhelming memory of loneliness. What has our world become?
On our way to find our seats for the game, we passed a tall, Chinese man that must have found the poster-making section. The poster, tied like a noose around his neck, said, “No, I don’t have COVID-19.” We didn’t know it yet, but months later, conversations of racism would be raging, angry, filling the void. I pointed it out to my Dad.
Before the game even began, someone was being unfairly discriminated against because of his race. Somewhere out there, a friend gave an elbow-bump greeting instead of a hug. Right before the game, a mom squeezed disinfectant onto her hands and wiped down the seats. That was my last sense of normalcy before the shutdown. Maybe it was preparing me for the emptiness and overwhelming racism that the world would soon witness.