Life in the NBA during the coronavirus pandemic can often seem like being in Groundhog Day.
You wake up, get tested before and sometimes after practices, before and after games. Players aren’t allowed of team hotels and games are essentially played every other day. For Golden State Warriors guard Kelly Oubre, the 2020-2021 season has been different to say the least.
“It’s kind of like the new norm at the moment,” he said. “But at the end of the day you have to continue to just go with the flow. It’s been something that I’ve had to adapt to really quickly, and it can never hinder your work. It’s the motivation to continue to keep going and never allow the circumstances to get the best of you.”
The 25-year-old said the NBA tried doing a saliva COVID-19 test for about a week, but then went back to regular nasal and oral swabs that will still be uncomfortable no matter how many times you go through it.
“It’s not the one where they touch your brain,” Oubre said. “So that’s always a positive.”
During the All-Star break, Oubre finally had some time away from the abnormally hard grind of the season to do some promotional work for CarMax’s Call Your Shot campaign. The Kansas University product drives a Tesla, but said he’d probably get a Jeep or a Mercedes if he had to choose a vehicle to buy online.
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So much of life over the last year has been conducted online rather than in person, and that includes Warriors fans watching games from home while still unable to attend games at Chase Center. And if you’ve watched Oubre play or seen him on his immensely popular social media accounts. (2.1 million on Instagram and 144,000 on Twitter) you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he misses performing in front of fans.
“I like to put on a show for the crowd, the people who are watching,” the 6-foot-7 Oubre said. “And not having fans there to cheer, make noise, boo, heckle, it kind of plays a factor into the energy of the games.”
Fans make everything better, he said. And playing with a transcendent star like Steph Curry makes everything easier for Oubre, who’s in his first season with Golden State after being acquired in the offseason from Oklahoma City after Phoenix routed him to the Thunder as part of the Chris Paul trade. Oubre’s legendary backcourt mate is a threat just by stepping on the court, he’s learned. And besides averaging 15.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for the 21-20 Warriors, he said he continuously works on making Curry’s life easier whenever he steps on the floor.
“Playing with one of the best shooters of all time is something that I don’t take for granted,” said the 6th-year veteran. “He has a lot of eyes on him, a lot of defensive schemes. People try to run different things to throw him off his game, but he never allows that to rattle him. That’s the testament of a great player.”
And it’s a testament to the foundation Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the organization laid, Oubre said, that opposing teams still give the Warriors their best shot every time they go head-to-head.
“We have to be locked in and ready each and every night because teams are always itching to beat us,” he said. “It’s a real compliment.”
If you know anything about Oubre, you know how serious he is about fashion and creative expression, including a 2017 game I covered in Brooklyn when the then-Washington Wizards guard was forced by the league to remove a Supreme leg sleeve, an incident that quickly went viral. Last year, he launched his own Dope Soul clothing line inspired by his life and his native New Orleans, with a production company with the same name in the works. His favorite brand other than his own is Chrome Hearts.
“Clothing is an art form and a way of expressing yourself,” Oubre said. “My form of expression being that I’m from New Orleans and art comes in many different forms there, whether music, clothes or actual drawing and painting. There’s a lot of history in that and that’s just my roots.”
Planting roots during his NBA career has proven a little more difficult for Oubre, who’s a restricted free agent this summer after signing a two-year, $30 million contract with Phoenix prior to the 2019-2020 season. With the league’s trade deadline just a week away and free agency potentially looming, he said he’s trying to focus on the flow of the season and making a playoff run with the Warriors rather than anything else.
“In today’s climate, the media, they try to think for us and beat us to the punch of any type of business deals that could go on,” Oubre said. “But I can only control what I can control, and right now that’s performing. I’m a Warrior, so I plan on keeping it that way for right now. And I’ll always try to give my heart and soul to this city and put on for the jersey on the front and the name on the back of my jersey. At this moment, I’m really just focused and locked in on this season and trying to make the best of it.”
When asked if the media pushes these speculative rumors and contract situations too hard Oubre said yes, but clarified that it wouldn’t be entertaining or something people looked at if they didn’t.
“I respect all aspects of it, but as an athlete and somebody who’s constantly in it and not creating the stories, I definitely have to just say that it’s something I don’t look at,” he said. “I just keep my head down and work hard. And you gotta do what you gotta do too.”