The NBA shutdown due to the coronavirus sent shock waves around the world last Wednesday. You hear it all the time that the league is a global game and that is true.
When the Sacramento Kings inked Marco Belinelli to a three-year, $19 million contract during the summer of 2015, it came with an added bonus. Long-time Italian journalist, Riccardo Pratesi, packed up his belongings and moved to Sacramento as well.
Pratesi is well-known in Italy for his years of coverage of Italian soccer powerhouse AC Milan, as well as years of covering the Italian national soccer team. He’s been to over 50 countries during his career and seen parts of the world that few have had the privilege to experience.
During the summer of 2014, Pratesi gave up a lucrative and stable career in Italy to move to the United States to cover the NBA firsthand. He began his journey in San Antonio while Bellinelli played for the Spurs and then made the move to Sacramento the next season.
He spent two years in Sacramento, covering both the Kings and bouncing down to the Bay Area to cover the Golden State Warriors as well. It was during this time that we formed a bond with Pratesi, which continues to this day.
Following the 2018 season, Pratesi moved back to Italy, where he currently resides in Tuscany. He continues to cover the NBA, from afar, providing the best coverage that you’ll find of the league in Italy.
For the last eight days, like the rest of his countrymen, Pratesi has been locked down in Italy. He’s confined to home, where he tracks the news from the US in the middle of the night due to the time difference between the two countries.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pratesi jumped on a Skype call and joined me for the latest edition of the Purple Talk podcast. From coronavirus to reminiscing about happier times, the conversation is well worth the listen.
Like so many others, Pratesi was up late watching the Oklahoma City Thunder prepare to host the Utah Jazz when the game was canceled due to Rudy Gobert’s positive test for the coronavirus.
“I tried to chronicle everything on Twitter with my handle for my followers,” Pratesi said. “Many people were awake because there is huge passion for NBA basketball overseas, especially in Italy.”
Already on countrywide lockdown in Italy, the news was shocking, just like it was here in the US. Times are tough in Italy and they can give Americans a small amount of insight into what they might be facing if the United States continues to take even more drastic measures.
“Basically, we have been in this position for a week and we’re going to stay in this position for another week and then we’ll go from there,” Pratesi said of the Italian shutdown. “It’s not unthinkable that these drastic measures are going to be renewed for quite a while again. The peak of the pathology is supposed to come next week and then we should slowly start to go downhill.”
It is a very scary time for most countries, but Italy in particular. They have been hit hard by COVID-19 and it has heavily taxed their healthcare system and way of life. As of Tuesday, Pratesi said the death toll is over 2,500 in Italy and the infected number is approximately 26,000.
“We don’t have any reference (from) the past, so we are just scrambling and trying to do the best we can,” Pratesi said of the pandemic.
In Italy, citizens are allowed to go to the grocery store for necessities, but they are ticketed and fined for being outside without a special pass. They are dealing with shortages of necessities like toilet paper, as we are in the States and there is no end in sight.
Pratesi has already been tested and he is negative for the virus, but the situation is dire and this experience has been eye-opening.
“The nurse gave me a mask and they told me, ‘This is for you, you have to be afraid of us and it’s not like we have to be afraid of you, because us, as an infirmary, as people who work in the hospital on daily basis, we expect to be all positive for coronavirus,’ ” Pratesi said. “That was scary to hear.”
“That was something that really scared me, and I admire the courage of these people that do their job, putting their life on the line for helping other people, when they may be the first one that needs help,” Pratesi added.
While the conversation covers a lot of coronavirus topics, it does have some basketball talk as well.
Pratesi has lived an amazing life as a sports journalist. He’s been all over the world chasing stories, including the United States. He’s been to 44 of the 50 states in the US. He’s also visited every NBA arena and even written a book on that experience.
In addition to the NBA, he’s been to 31 of the 32 NFL stadiums and visited 75 different college campuses around the country to take in sporting events.
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Like so many others, Pratesi has turned to watching old YouTube videos of games to get his sports fix during the suspension of play. He continues to write remotely for an Italian newspaper based in Milan that is currently cleared out due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The NBA is escapism at its best for millions of fans around the world. The conversation with Riccardo is a reminder that we are more alike than we are different, regardless of where we happen to grow up.
Be safe and think good thoughts for our friends around the world who are feeling overwhelmed about the current situation, much like the rest of us.