Lowe: How NBA players are parenting through the coronavirus shutdown


Al Horford never expected to become a live-in physical education teacher for his three children — especially for the oldest, Ean, his 5-year-old son. But when the COVID-19 hiatus and accompanying self-quarantining hit the United States, the Horfords found themselves together in an apartment in the Philadelphia area without a yard.

There are parks nearby, but on rainy and cold days, the Horfords invent ways to keep Ean and his 3-year-old sister, Alía, active and engaged. Horford has become a master designer of indoor obstacle courses, and he times both Ean and Alía. “They get really into it,” Horford said. “Ean loves trying to break his own records.”

The family couch breaks apart, and Horford sometimes uses the pieces as obstacles to run around. Some courses include stations for 20- or 30-piece puzzles. Others are almost household versions of the NBA’s Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend. Ean will have to score a soccer goal before advancing, pick up toys stationed around the apartment and drop them into buckets elsewhere, or even execute a few pushups.

“We are getting pretty creative,” Horford said, laughing.

Kids in Ean’s age range — between 4 and 6 or 7 — represent a unique parenting challenge during self-quarantine. They are old enough to understand something is wrong — that their lives have been disrupted — but not the level of seriousness, or how long the disruption might last. At the same time, many of them are not old enough to have intensive school assignments to routinize long portions of their days — or to play immersive video games that knock hours off the schedule.

In normal times, NBA players and coaches travel more than almost anyone. They keep strange hours. They are not used to full-time, heavy-lifting parenting outside the offseason — let alone parenting kids in this age range during a period of strict isolation.

“You gain a whole new respect for stay-at-home moms, nannies and teachers,” said Gordon Hayward. Hayward and his wife, Robyn, have three daughters, including Bernie, who is 4.

“It’s like every five minutes, I’m trying to think of something for them to do,” said Rudy Gay, who has two sons — Clinton, 5, and 4-year-old Dean. Gay got excited when they found a box turtle — they quickly named it Squirtle — in the backyard on Wednesday, thinking it might hold their interest for hours. “It was cool for three minutes,” Gay said. “Then they wanted something else.”

Players and coaches say they have tried to be honest with kids around that age about the virus, without frightening them. “We tell them there are a lot of people who are sick, and that we can help them by staying home,” said Kyle Korver, who has three kids — including his son Knox, who is 5. Gay uses the word “germs” instead of “virus,” he said.

As the Horfords gathered to watch a movie during the first week of self-quarantine, Ean suddenly blurted out, “‘The reason we can’t go anywhere is because of the coronavirus,”’ Horford said. “I was surprised. When you think they aren’t listening, they are. So we talked about it. I didn’t want to freak him out or make him anxious.”

Thaddeus Young‘s 6-year-old son, Taylor, is a question machine, Young said: “It’s all day, every day: ‘How long do we have to stay at home? Why this? Why that? What is the coronavirus?'”

Kids ask often about school, or when they can see friends. “That’s the hard part,” said Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who has three kids, including his 6-year-old son, Blade, the youngest. “That’s what [Blade] doesn’t really understand: ‘My friends are healthy. I’m healthy. Why can’t we play? Why can’t they come over?'”

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