The hotel bar in Aruba was a perfect nighttime spot to enjoy live music, postcard views and drinks adorned with umbrellas. It also was a strange place to find out the sports world was shutting down, a paradise buzzkill, especially if your occupation involves writing about sports.
That is where I found myself a year ago Thursday, March 11, on a family spring break trip, trying to process news that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus, which forced the NBA to postpone the game and then suspend its season later that evening.
Well, this isn't good, I told my wife. Wonder how long this will last?
Never in a million years would I have guessed the answer would be: Until now, and still not over.
The world has changed in immeasurable and permanent ways in the 365 days since, so much so that we refer to moments as "pre-pandemic," as if life got sliced into two distinctive parts, before and after.
March 11 serves as the sports world's demarcation line — the moment the first domino fell, triggering a sequence of cancellations that ushered in a new reality.
Had anyone ever heard the term "social distancing" before this? Or conducted business by Zoom? Or believed Major League Baseball would institute something as radical as putting a runner on second base to start extra innings?
Those first few months of shutdown were scary, and confusing, and lonely, and a whole range of emotions. Every phone call with my mom included the same question: What are you writing about if there are no sports?
Well, mom, great question.
There were days when a column was due and I woke up thinking, you know, I always figured I'd be good at selling vacuum cleaners. Today might be the day for a new profession.
But then I would remind myself to be thankful that I still had a job whereas so many others were not as fortunate. Amid all the grief and uncertainty, the pandemic has provided new perspective about how we view problems.
Every person has dealt with his or her own challenges within shared hardship. I admit that I have struggled at times with writing about sports in the context of a pandemic. Was it really that important, given everything else happening?
Usually, sports provide a convenient escape from life's worries. Need to disconnect for a few hours? Put on a ballgame. Maybe something exciting will happen as a bonus.
That is harder now because the virus touches every facet of our lives. Sports is no longer an escape. Leagues have to navigate it just like every other profession.
I have waged a personal tug-of-war over how to write about the importance of sports getting back to business without sounding heartless or crass. I wanted games to return and felt it was necessary in some ways, but the voice in the other ear kept reminding me that people were dying and infection rates were not under control in many places.
Covering games in empty stadiums will never feel normal. Ever. And watching games on TV with piped-in fan noise is somehow worse.
Interviewing coaches and athletes over Zoom has made the best job in the world less enjoyable. Hopefully, sports leagues realize that face-to-face human interaction (when it's safe) leads to better storytelling and thus better stories for their fans.
Not every change has felt like a loss; some made a lot of sense after seeing the results. Shorter seasons in basketball and hockey. The universal DH in baseball. Granting college athletes an extra year of eligibility.
I complained when state officials required high school athletes to wear masks during competition. Then I went to games and barely noticed masks. I just saw kids happy to be competing.
A year ago, I couldn't have possibly understood that perspective or what was in store. That night in Aruba feels like a decade ago. Time between then and now also strangely feels like a blur.
For my money, March is the best month in the sports calendar. High school state tournaments take place. March Madness starts next week. Opening Day is fast approaching.
I love this month. I feel hopeful again.