GR Drive president talks G League suspension, COVID-19

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — For the Grand Rapids Drive President Steve Jbara, things started to set in that something wasn’t right on March 11.

The Drive was preparing for a home game at the DeltaPlex Arena against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. According to Jbara, they had sold close to 3,200 tickets. It was expected to be a big night for attendance and the staff was ramping up for just that.

Instead, just around 600 people filed into the arena.

“We’re starting to feel the effects of the (league) shutdown before the announcement was made,” Jbara said. “We were sitting there expecting a big night, with March Madness starting to ramp up even weeknight tickets would sell well. think I showed up 20 minutes before the game and was like wow, something is going on.”

The Drive would fall to the Mad Ants 111-103 that night, and it would be one of the final games played before the current suspension of play due to the coronavirus hit on March 12, the following morning.

Grand Rapids had seven games remaining on its schedule before any potential postseason play. The Drive are currently 25-18 (7-6 division) and fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

While the league still hopes to resume play within weeks, Jbara agrees with the league that the players’ health and safety come first.

“I think we’re all hopeful we do play, but I think there is a higher chance that we don’t,” Jbara said. “It’s tough with some of the smaller markets and teams that maybe don’t do as well to take on the additional time, housing, and all the other stuff that comes along with a season.”

If the season can resume, Jbara said the organization would come up with something for the community to get people reengaged with the franchise. With the weather starting to turn, tickets aren’t easily sold on the weekend.

With the season still in limbo, many of the players have had to return home to family or stay in their apartment in Grand Rapids. However, the situation is even more unique for the Drive’s players and staff.

Detroit Pistons forward Christian Wood tested positive for COVID-19, after being exposed in what many believe to be the game against the Utah Jazz on March 7. Jazz players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were two of the first NBA players to test positive for COVID-19.

There were a couple of players who were called up for that game from the Drive and returned to play in Grand Rapids before the league’s cancellation. While they were probably at low risk, they were still exposed to the virus. The entire team and staff quarantined for 14 days after and none showed symptoms of COVID-19, according to Jbara.

The players who were considered higher risk were all tested and everything came back negative.

“This was all prior to (Gov. Gretchen) Whitmer’s stay-at-home address, so now all the players are just at home, hanging out in their apartments still,” Jbara said. “Were trying to help them figure out meals and keep them entertained. The strength and conditioning coach have provided them some at-home stuff to do.

“It’s just weird to take in you have all these NBA, G League, WNBA athletes who are just sitting in their living room and haven’t picked up a basketball in days.”

Jbara says he envisions something similar to a shortened version of a training camp to “shake the dust off” if the league can start back up. Until then, Jbara and the rest of the sports worlds continue to wait.

“It’s been tough, man, I thought maybe I had gotten to the end of Netflix the other day,” Jbara said laughing. “I was texting back and forth with another staffer the other day Usain Bolt highlights. I think when you get into the track and field archives on YouTube, you’ve hit a point of no return as far as missing live entertainment. It’s been tough, but hopefully, life will return to normal sooner than later.”