After a four-month break due to the coronavirus crisis, the NBA is set to resume with games taking place in Orlando, Florida. Dallas center Maxi Kleber spoke to DW about the pandemic and the risks of returning to play.
DW: Maxi Kleber, on Wednesday you flew from Texas to Florida. In other words, you flew out of one coronavirus hot spot and into another. Where do you feel safer?
Maxi Kleber: It's difficult to watch the numbers rise in Texas and Florida. And, of course, I hope that someday the numbers will start to drop. Which hot spot is worse at the moment? I don't think it makes much difference. But we players are being extremely well monitored in the [NBA] bubble in Orlando. We get tested regularly, and there are all kinds of other measures. So, as a player at least, you can feel safe here.
What are your expectations as you get ready to play out the season?
For me, the important thing is that everyone stays healthy. You must bear in mind that we are restarting the season with slightly less time to get ready for it than usual. Normally, you train individually before heading into camp, but, this time, it was more difficult to do that. That's why it's important that we are aware of this and train properly.
We had a decent season before the break (Dallas were in a playoff spot in seventh place in the Western Conference after 57 games). Now, we have eight games left before the playoffs start. It would be good if we could climb up the standings a bit before then. But, of course, we also know that the schedule will be quite difficult, and I've never even played in an NBA playoff game before. Playing without fans in the stands will make these playoffs completely different to any previous postseasons. But in the playoffs, it's always about taking one game at a time and who can stay healthy, etc. This year, anything can happen.
How many times have you been tested so far?
Seven or eight times in Dallas, and then again right after we arrived in Orlando. Now, we players are isolated in our rooms, waiting for the test results. If they're negative, we can start training.
The NBA has issued a 113-page hygiene plan Did you have to read that or were there other sources of information on how to conduct yourself in the bubble?
There were several conference calls with the NBA and the players' union. Not all of them were mandatory, but in the mandatory ones, we were informed about the rules we need to follow. We all have our own rooms and food is delivered to our rooms. There are also one or two restaurants where we can order food. But it's not like you can go out and walk around looking for a restaurant.
How confident are you in the NBA's return-to-play plan?
I'm very confident. They're taking very good care of us. We can feel safer in this bubble here in Orlando than we could have going shopping in Dallas.
As you said, there is no 100% guarantee of avoiding infection. How much of a risk do you think exists despite the precautions that are being taken?
There definitely is a risk. The question is whether there are any loopholes in the rules and whether everyone will stick to them – in other words, whether the players will fully cooperate or not.
What is the sporting value of the NBA tournament?
That's a question I've been asking myself the entire time. If the whole thing is played out in its entirety, it's pretty much a season like any other, albeit with a few fewer games. The playoff format is the same. The biggest difference will be that without the fans in the stands, the home advantage that you would normally have in the playoffs won't exist. There are a lot of factors that make me think it may be even more difficult to win the title than usual. Still, I think that winning this title should be regarded as being equal in value to winning the title under normal circumstances.
With things being so different, how big a factor will a players' psyche be in these playoffs?
I think the psychological aspect will be the the most difficult part. We had all pretty much been isolated at home for four months. Now we're completely isolated in the bubble. I haven't been able to visit my family for a long time. Usually I would have been back in Germany by now. Sure, the Mavericks all get along great and we have a lot of fun together. But you still have the desire to see other people, like your friends or your family. There are worse things in life, but I will definitely miss having social contact with others during this time in Orlando.
Maximilian Kleber, 28, is a German basketball player who has been with the NBA's Dallas Mavericks since 2017, having started his professional career in Europe. Like his former teammate, NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki, Kleber hails from the Bavarian town of Würzburg. Kleber, who can play both as a center or power forward, made his debut with the German national team in 2014, the same year he was eligible for the NBA draft, but was not selected.
The interview was conducted by Heiko Oldörp