Lakers center JaVale McGee has had a long and uncomfortable history with asthma, something he’d long ago grown tired of discussing. But as the league ramps up for its return to action in the coming weeks, McGee and his longtime ailment will again be in the spotlight.
That’s because COVID-19, the disease associated with the novel coronavirus, has been known to take an especially difficult toll on those who suffer respiratory conditions. If the coronavirus does show up in the NBA’s revamped season, McGee will be a special risk.
He has said he is not concerned about the asthma. But he also said that he did not think players should be restricted to the NBA’s “bubble” during the league’s reboot, which could potentially stretch from July into the middle of October for NBA Finalists. Players who leave the bubble would be subject to quarantine, no matter how unpalatable that might seem.
“It was slightly concerning,” Lakers center JaVale McGee said, according to the L.A. Times. “Just because I don’t think people are going to do that. We’re grown men, first of all. Luckily that’s not how it’s going to be if it happens.”
Except, it is. Players will not be allowed to leave the Disney World complex because if they do, the chances of bringing back the virus goes up dramatically. The league is out to prevent that to protect players—especially at-risk players like McGee.
JaVale McGee Fills Key Role at Center
McGee is averaging just 6.8 points for the Lakers but he has played a critical role as a starter who can chew up opening-game minutes at center while Anthony Davis plays power forward, the position he prefers.
Davis chafed at how much he was asked to play center with the Pelicans in his time there—he was at center 96% of his possessions last year, according to Basketball-Reference.com—and the Lakers have made a commitment to limit his minutes there. With McGee starting and Dwight Howard off the bench, Davis has only had to play 38% of his possessions at center.
McGee, who won two championships with the Warriors in 2017 and 18, has not scored much but has been productive in his 16.8 minutes per game, averaging 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots.
Earlier this season, head coach Frank Vogel had high praise for the McGee-Howard combo.
“They come in and tag team and give us All-Star production at the center position between the two of them,” Vogel said. “That’s just part of what we’re trying to preach with this group. We’ve got to build positive chemistry, we have to achieve it and those two support each other where they are and like I said it’s a big reason for our success this year.”
McGee Discovered his Asthma in 2010
McGee first discovered that he had athletic asthma in the 2009-10 season, when he was playing for the Wizards. He had a tendency, even when he was in college, to get winded quickly, no matter how much conditioning he did. He figured he was out of shape.
Late Wizards coach Flip Saunders told the Washington Post that he would watch McGee and think, “He shouldn’t get that tired that fast.”
McGee got on medication and his minutes per game jumped from 16.1 to 27.8 in 2010-11. He did struggle when, in 2012, he was traded to Denver and had to play at high altitude. He averaged only 17.5 minutes with the Nuggets in four seasons.
Still, McGee has been annoyed by the notion that he can only be effective in short stints. Early last year, McGee was playing some of the heaviest minutes of his career—he finished the year at 22.3 per game but was averaging 27.2 minutes through nine games—and was asked about the asthma.
He had a vigorous response, according to ESPN:
This is what I want to say about the asthma. Stop bringing that up like I’m out here wheezing and having asthma attacks. I’ve never had an asthma attack in my life. I feel like that’s definitely lowered my value as a basketball player. People say, ‘Oh he only can play 20 minutes because he has asthma.’ No. there’s a lot of people with asthma in the league. I feel like somebody stamped that excuse on me like, ‘Cool, we can play him low minutes because he has asthma.’
The coronavirus will likely make his asthma an issue again, though, whether McGee wants to talk about it or not.