It’s been four months since Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19, setting off a chain of events that brought sports across the world to a screeching halt.
On Thursday, the NBA will finally resume its 2019-20 season with 22 teams competing in what will amount to a month-long tournament that will determine the league’s champion. The games will be played in the quarantined bubble of Disney World’s Wide World of Sports and other venues around Orlando, Florida.
If you’re a basketball fan in general and a Duke fan in particular, the return of the NBA will be a sight for your sore eyes.
Of course, if you’re not particularly fond of the Blue Devils and their massive alumni association around the league, you might be better suited looking the other way.
That’s because of the 33 players with ties to North Carolina colleges listed on the NBA’s restart rosters, 18 of them played at least one season in a Duke uniform under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
That compared to eight from North Carolina and one each from NC State, Wake Forest, UNC Wilmington and Campbell.
Eleven of the teams, exactly half, still in action feature at least one former Blue Devil. All but one of them play in the Western Conference, led by the New Orleans Pelicans with five. It’s a group put together by former Dukie Trajan Langdon and includes J.J. Redick, Jahlil Okafor, Brandon Ingram, Frank Jackson and Zion Williamson.
Williamson, as he usually is, has been the center of attention lately, forced to leave the NBA’s bubble to tend to what has been described as an urgent family matter.
The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft is averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in 19 games this season for the Pelicans.
“Fortunately for us, he’s back here,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told NBA.com on Monday. “He’ll be out of quarantine (on Tuesday). We’ll go from there. We’re just happy to have him back. It’s a real private thing with his family, which is first and foremost on our mind. To make sure everything was fine there.”
Besides the Pelicans, the largest concentration of former Duke stars belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings with three each — although one on each team is injured and won’t play.
Memphis has Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow, who is currently sidelined. Sacramento has Harry Giles III, Jabari Parker and the injured Marvin Bagley III. The Kings also feature a Tar Heel on their roster in Harrison Barnes.
But when it comes to Old North State diversity, no one is represented by more schools than the Los Angeles Lakers with UNC’s Danny Green, Duke’s Quinn Cook and UNCW’s Devontae Cacok teaming up to try to help LeBron James win another championship ring.
In addition to those players from state schools, four others with ties to North Carolina will be on the court when the NBA starts back up.
They are Tarboro native Montrezl Harrell of the Los Angeles Clippers, who played his college ball at Louisville; the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo of Pinetown, who attended Kentucky; Jerome Robinson of the Washington Wizards, a Raleigh native who starred at Boston College; and the Phoenix Suns’ Jalen Lecque, who signed to play at NC State but turned pro before playing a game for the Wolfpack.
All 22 teams in the Orlando bubble will play an eight-game schedule to finish the 2019-20 regular season. If the eighth seed has a four-game lead in the standings, it will advance directly to the playoffs to face the No. 1 overall seed. If the ninth-place team is within 3½ games, a play-in game will be held between the eighth- and ninth-place teams.
Once the playoffs begin, all series will be seven games, with single days of rest between each game.
North Carolina well‑represented in NBA bubble
Here is the full list of in-state players on restart rosters:
Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum (Duke), Semi Ojeleye (Duke)
Brooklyn Nets; Lance Thomas (Duke), Kyrie Irving* (Duke)
Dallas Mavericks: Seth Curry (Duke), Justin Jackson (UNC)
Denver Nuggets: Mason Plumlee (Duke)
Houston Rockets: Austin Rivers (Duke), Chris Clemons (Campbell)
Indiana Pacers: T.J. Warren (NC State)
Los Angeles Clippers: Montrezl Harrell (Tarboro/North Edgecombe HS)
Los Angeles Lakers: Danny Green (UNC), Quinn Cook (Duke), Devontae Cacok (UNCW)
Memphis Grizzlies: Tyus Jones (Duke), Grayson Allen (Duke), Justise Winslow* (Duke)
Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo (Pinetown/High Point Christian)
Milwaukee Bucks: Marvin Williams (UNC)
New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson (Duke), J.J. Redick
(Duke), Brandon Ingram (Duke), Jahlil Okafor (Duke), Frank Jackson (Duke)
Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul (Wake Forest)
Phoenix Suns: Cameron Johnson (UNC); Jalen Lecque (NC State signee)
Portland Trail Blazers: Gary Trent Jr. (Duke)
Sacramento Kings: Harrison Barnes (UNC), Harry Giles III (Duke), Jabari Parker (Duke), Marvin Bagley III* (Duke)
San Antonio Spurs: Tyler Zeller (UNC)
Utah Jazz: Tony Bradley (UNC), Ed Davis (UNC)
Washington Wizards: Jerome Robinson (Raleigh/Broughton HS)
* not playing