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A season postponed: Professional basketball player TJ Bray talks about how COVID-19 affected his season in Europe

Since his time at Princeton, TJ Bray has played basketball professionally in Europe. Most recently, the New Berlin native was a member of FC Bayern Munich in Germany. (Courtesy: Princeton University Athletics)

NEW BERLIN, Wis. (BVM) — TJ Bray has played professional basketball in Europe for the last five years. The last two seasons have been spent in Germany and this year he was playing with FC Bayern Munich.

The season was going well. Even though the team was struggling in the EuroLeague, it was first in the Bundesliga. Overall, the season was going like any other Bray has played through.

“I guess I don’t remember exactly when, probably mid-February when things were breaking out of China things were happening,” Bray said. “There was discussion around the locker room of ‘Hey, do you see what’s going on here?’”

He is of course referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that quickly swept through the globe and put everything on pause, including all major sports in the United States and abroad. 

According to Bray, the progression happened quite rapidly from that initial locker room chatter. 

“Then Italy started to get hit a little more and that’s when the club team doctors started telling us ‘Hey, be careful. Wash your hands. Just try to make sure this doesn’t get too bad.’ And then about a week after that the club, FC Bayern Munich, put out, ‘No pictures with the players. No high fives.’ We are going to try and keep as much distance between the players and fans as possible.” 

Just like everyone else, they tried everything to effectively deal with the virus while still trying to play the season. 

“After that it just really took off,” Bray said. “It got to the point where we were sitting in the airport ready to go to Moscow, Russia and our flight was taking off at 10:05 and it was 9:45. Our flight had fully boarded besides the team and we were waiting there being like, ‘Hey, are we getting on this flight or not?’ Ended up getting word not to hop on. Thankfully dodged a bullet there and then 20 minutes after we didn’t get on the flight the season was officially suspended.”

Their game in Moscow was scheduled for March 13. The suspension of the season was one of many that week starting March 11 with the NBA suspending all games. Even with the suspension, Bray was not planning on leaving Europe. He was going to wait out the suspension.

Unfortunately, as the virus became more and more serious, the response to the virus also became more serious. With the announcement that even American citizens who were overseas wouldn’t be able to travel back to the States, it forced Bray and many other Americans playing abroad to head home.

Once back in the U.S., Bray spent his time trying to stay in season form, working out as best he could at home during the quarantine, hoping and waiting to hear if he would be able to finish the season.

“Once soccer got approved then it was kind of like, ‘Ok we got a legit chance here that we’ll be back playing.’ But honestly, until I got my flight ticket I was not really expecting to go back,” Bray said.

Bray left for Germany on May 15, but the official announcement of the return of basketball in Germany wasn’t until May 20. The Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) would have a 10-team championship tournament to finish the season.

“It’s nice to have some semblance of normalcy back in life,” Bray said.

Bayern went 2-2 in group play and then lost a close quarterfinal matchup against MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg, the eventual runner-up. The tournament finished on June 28 with ALBA Berlin beating Ludwigsburg.

Even though Bayern lost, Bray and all involved in the tournament were just happy to have an end to their season. 

“It’s definitely something I’ll never forget,” Bray said.

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