The parallels between basketball and pandemic medicine

Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Yao Ming. These are the biggest names in the basketball world, and all three were my superheroes growing up. Even though I’d never had the chance to meet them, to see how they carried themselves on and off the court-inspired me to push myself, to find out what my limits were physically and mentally, and to constantly create new goals for myself after accomplishing what I already set out for myself. It’s the same mindset NBA players have. Because of the sheer amount of publicity they receive on what seems like a 24/7 basis, the public has a rare glimpse into how hard work and dedication can manifest into wins and championships.

Today during this pandemic, the public has new idols to look up to. Nurses. Physicians. Respiratory Therapists. Paramedics. These health care providers are in the fight against COVID-19, and all have years of education and on-the-job experience to treat and care for the sickest of patients.

No, they aren’t doing anything flashy like slam dunks and crossovers. But, like basketball players, they all do extraordinary things in what seems to be seconds. To them, their actions feel like a lifetime because of the thousands of hours spent practicing and refining their craft.

“Health care heroes” we call them on social media and the news. How these professionals fearlessly go to work every day, knowing the possibility of contracting the virus exists because of a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), is awe-inspiring. But, these heroes have an oath to the public. That the sick are to be cared for and not ignored, regardless of the dire circumstances. Despite the shortage of N95 masks and the shortage of ventilators. Despite the sheer thousands of patients who test positive for the virus every day, there are thousands of nurses and physicians ready to attack the problem.

As we start reopening our economy in phases across the country, we will need our health care heroes now more than ever. We will look to them for guidance and reassurance that we will all come out as better versions of ourselves, while not forgetting the health care providers that came before them. As NBA players honor the legends like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Wilt Chamberlain, our nurses and doctors keep in living memory those that fell ill to COVID-19 and didn’t get to come back home.

Basketball and medicine are one and the same. Both entail becoming the best at your craft, a willingness to tackle obstacles and to learn on the go, and to keep perseverance and dedication alive to achieve a common end goal. For basketball, it’s winning world championships, giving back to local communities, and expanding the game of basketball to countries worldwide. For medicine, it’s winning the fight against COVID-19, getting PPE into the hands of providers, and treating and caring for patients with COVID-19.

Ton La, Jr. is a medical student, can be reached on LinkedIn, and is affiliated with

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