The last time Quinn Cook was at Staples Center was March 10. The Lakers, after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks and Clippers over the weekend, were taking on the Brooklyn Nets in front of a sold-out crowd.
Despite losing to the Nets in an upset, everything felt good as Cook caught up with his former teammate Kevin Durant, whom he has known since he was 7.
He never expected that would be the last time he would leave Staples Center this season.
“I started gaining more knowledge of the virus and how serious it was around that time, but I expected to be back Thursday,” Cook said of the coronavirus. “I remember the next day we had practice and we were expecting to move forward without any fans. … We were supposed to play Houston the next night at home and we were wondering was that going to be like.”
Later that night, the NBA season was suspended indefinitely and sports leagues around the world were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A few days later, Durant, three Nets teammates and two Lakers tested positive for the coronavirus. All the players have since recovered.
“It was surreal,” Cook said. “Kevin has always been there for me no matter what. He has always guided me through every step of life. He’s been like that since he was 12 years old and I was 7 years old. It just turned out that my best friend and my brother became one of the greatest to ever play the game, but he’s also one of the greatest mentors.”
The bond between Cook and Durant began in their hometown in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which has produced 25 NBA players and more than a dozen WNBA players since 2000. The story of their small community becoming one of the country’s great basketball hotbeds is the focus of “Basketball County: In the Water,” a Showtime documentary for which Durant and his manager Rich Kleiman, along with Cook and Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo, were executive producers.
“I’ve always wanted to do something on our county and I was starting something on my own and Kevin and Rich told me what they were doing and they wanted me to come on board with them,” Cook said. “It’s a special place. Five guys on my high school team made the NBA. It was expected. When each of us made it, it was no surprise. That’s P.G. County.”
Cook graduated from Duke with a degree in theater studies and doesn’t think this first foray into filmmaking will be his last. Who knows, the Lakers’ pursuit of an NBA championship this year might inspire another documentary.
Brooklyn Nets guard Theo Pinson, left, guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant watch the game action during the second half against the Houston Rockets on Nov. 1, 2019, in New York. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)
After quarantining at his home in Los Angeles for about a month following the two positive tests on the Lakers, Cook flew to his home in Atlanta in April where he worked out with Jarrett Jack, another product of Prince George’s County. He stayed in Georgia until that state began easing lockdown restrictions in late April.
Cook was the first Lakers player to return to the team’s practice facility in El Segundo when it reopened May 16. He has worked out there two more times since, and plans to be there regularly as the NBA closes in on resuming the season.
“It was like the first day of school again,” Cook said. “I was just so excited to be back in the building and I’m so happy they opened our facility. I was impressed with all the precautions that they took. When you get there, your temperature has to be taken, you have to wipe your phones down with Lysol, you have to leave your shoes outside the facility but our equipment guy Andrew [Henk] has our sandals ready by the door. You have to wear a mask at all times, except for when you’re working out on the court, but I’m used to wearing a mask by now.
“But everything is so organized from the weight room to the court, I felt back home again. It was a big first step for us.”
With practice facilities around the league opening and governors in several states, including California, announcing this week that professional sports can potentially resume as early as next month without fans present, Cook is optimistic that the Lakers will be able to continue their pursuit of a championship.
“Every player wants to get back going, and not just us because we have a chance to win the championship but this our outlet as players,” Cook said. “Yes, this is our job, but when we’re having rough days and when we’re going through tough times, we can all come to the gym and come to the locker room and let everything out. Basketball is therapeutic for a lot of us. We all love, live and breathe basketball. We all want to get back to playing basketball and doing what we love.”
Cook took a deep breath as he thought back at the season the Lakers were having. It began when their trip to China was cut short when government officials there took exception to a comment by a Houston Rockets executive. Then Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash. And just when the Lakers were hitting full stride as the top team in the Western Conference, the season was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been through a lot as a team when you go back to our China trip, which brought everybody together, and then the tragic passing of Kobe and Gigi, which tore everybody’s heart apart, and we’re all still heartbroken and in disbelief with what happened that day,” Cook said.
“And then you go to what we’re going through now with this pandemic. It’s been a surreal, emotional roller coaster, and if we win a championship it would be a happy ending. But I think the happiest ending is when we get through this together and get things back to normal.”