Mohamed Bamba was not able to join his Orlando Magic teammates immediately at any stage. A positive coronavirus test in June has left some lingering effects
Not even the bench, Mohamed Bamba did not get into the game until it was well in hand in the first two games and did not see any action as the Orlando Magic struggled against the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors.
Through four games in the seeding round, Bamba has played a total of 10:47. None of it in meaningful minutes. He has seemingly been relegated to cleanup minutes at a time the Magic could use his shot-blocking, floor spacing and energy.
Frustration was a natural feeling among fans and even with Bamba.
Coach Steve Clifford said he and Mohamed Bamba discussed the decision. He promised it was not because of anything Bamba did or his poor play. It was simply about his conditioning, having added 20 pounds of muscle during the hiatus and still learning to play with that weight.
That was what made logical sense with the information at the time. It did not satisfy fans desperate to see the young player get his chance — he needed the playoff experience as much as anyone.
Something else was at work. Something Bamba and the team wanted to keep quiet and private.
With the coronavirus continuing to spread in the U.S. — although the rate is slowing, including in Orange County — Bamba decided it was time to speak up and share his experience.
At least part of the reason he has been slowed down inside the campus is because he tested positive for the coronavirus in June. He revealed his diagnosis and some of his continuing struggles with Josh Robbins of The Athletic (subscription required).
Bamba explained to Robbins — and in a Facebook post on his personal page — that he also provided two false-positive tests while in the NBA campus. That kept him in quarantine longer than the rest of his teammates.
He was already well behind his teammates in regaining their conditioning, unable to get into the AdventHealth Practice Facility when it reopened. And then he was stuck in his room as the league sorted through his tests before releasing him from the initial quarantine.
As much as anyone, Bamba has had to play catchup. and he has had to do it mostly on his own. At this point, he said he is doing all the work he can to help his team.
Bamba has been playing catch up even after all the gains he made physically. He truly was not able to begin getting his basketball skills to catch up to his physical gains. He essentially only did half the work of an offseason.
Usually an offseason sees players add strength and focus on shaping their body while also playing and working on skills to match it. Bamba completely lost that as he got his positive diagnosis just as the team was opening the facility.
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While he looked good carrying his weight during the scrimmages, it was clear to see him getting tired quickly. The Magic, as they usually are with players coming back from an injury, were cautious with him. He played only a stretch of minutes at the end of the third and fourth quarters. Everyone assumed it was precautionary.
But nobody outside of the Magic knew about the positive diagnosis. And nobody knew the extent to which Bamba dealt with symptoms.
James Ennis also tested positive for COVID-19. But he said other than some general fatigue, he remained symptom-free. He was able to rejoin his teammates pretty quickly after he entered the campus and tested negative for the disease.
Bamba’s symptoms were significantly more. He told Robbins he temporarily lost his sense of taste and smell among the other symptoms of fatigue and general soreness.
He certainly did not have it as bad as many other people — the symptoms for COVID-19 vary widely as many know by this point — but it was certainly debilitating for a young player trying to work, improve his body and his skills.
That was the least important thing too. He just wanted to be healthy.
Now that he is recovered and is no longer testing positive, Bamba wants to make sure everyone is taking this disease seriously and doing their part to stamp it out.
It is unclear how much of Bamba’s struggles with conditioning are part of the lingering effects of the disease. But Bamba said he is working to build himself back up as quickly as he can. He is playing 3-on-3 and taking all the extra time he can on the court to get himself back into playing shape so he can help the team.
Bamba wants to be out there. His teammates do too — just watch them celebrate his strong play against the Los Angeles Lakers in the scrimmage stage. But everyone is trying to be smart and make sure he can provide the help he wants to provide.
That means for now, Bamba remains on the bench working on his conditioning and getting himself back to the level he knows he can play.
And, perhaps far more importantly, making sure everyone understands how serious everyone needs to take fighting the disease.