Chris Paul had a front-row seat to one of the most shocking days in sports history. In March 2020, football was in its offseason and preparing for the NFL draft; baseball was on the verge of starting the season, and the NBA and NHL were getting ready for the playoffs.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. With so much happening, Paul knew he had to chronicle what it was like to be an athlete during this trying time. And the Suns star chose to do so in partnership with HBO via The Day Sports Stood Still.
The calm before the storm
In the early weeks of 2020, COVID-19 seemed like a looming threat that needed to be taken seriously. While media reports showed other countries breaking down at the seams, America continued as is until one day in early March.
Although the virus was in the U.S. and the numbers were unknown, the NBA let several days’ worth of games happen before planning to shut it all down. The shutdown came sooner than expected. Paul had his eyes on the pandemic early on. One month before the game that changed it all, Xinhua News noted that the point guard wrote “Pray for Wuhan” on his shoes.
As the president of the NBA Players’ Association, he knew that his words, more than most, meant something for the overall brand. However, when he took the court as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder for a game against the Jazz, he didn’t know how close to the story he’d get.
Jazz center Rudy Gobert had missed the previous game with an undisclosed illness. To add to the complications, he’d jokingly touched the microphones at a press conference a few days earlier when asked about the virus occurring overseas. While rumors persisted that he had COVID-19, it wasn’t until a few minutes before the game against Paul and the Thunder that the shoe dropped. He tested positive.
2020 in a nutshell
USA Today ran down the events of March 13, 2020. After Gobert’s test came back, the rest of the games that hadn’t started were canceled. The news combined with the bombshell that beloved actor Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19 in Australia.
Within days, Adam Silver shut the league down in the days before the rest of the country did the same. For the first time in several decades, there were no pro sports in America. From that fateful day in March, Paul felt like he had to cover this from the eyes of a player, but at the onset of the pandemic, he didn’t realize just how many topics it would cover.
Before the NBA reconvened at the end of July, the country’s political landscape boiled over, as well, when the shooting of George Floyd kicked off nationwide protests and civil unrest. When the NBA was in the Orlando bubble, the Milwaukee Bucks made headlines when they protested a playoff game and refused to take the court after another police shooting in Wisconsin.
Suddenly, Paul’s documentary, The Day Sports Stood Still, was not just about the pandemic but racism, player activism, and America in general. It covered the death of Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Karl-Anthony Towns’ mother and how the pandemic affected players’ lives away from basketball.
Viewers of the documentary can watch as Paul chronicles his journey, from finding out about Gobert to his ensuing quarantine after doctors tested the team. Awful Announcing notes that while the movie doesn’t provide anything new on the subject, it shows how it affected the athletes away from the sports they play.
Chris Paul’s documentary
Now a member of the Phoenix Suns, Paul is happy to share the work with the world but spoke to GQ about how society cannot grow content. He said:
We’re all still trying to get through this pandemic right now and just trying to survive in life, but five, 10 years from now, we’ll all look back and see that that was one of the greatest achievements in not only league history, but just the world.
I think that that bubble let other businesses know that there is a safe way that you can get back some sense of normalcy.
The Day Sports Stood Still is technically about a pandemic. But it’s a perfect encapsulation of the most tumultuous year in recent decades. Paul had the foresight to see that this was a critical moment. As he started shooting his documentary, however, he never pictured it covering the broad scope of issues that it did. It aired on HBO in March and is streaming on HBO Max now.