Leandro Barbosa’s Family Grew During the Pandemic

Barbosa, a Brazilian basketball player and one-time N.B.A. champion, and his wife found out they had the coronavirus shortly before she gave birth to their daughter.

Credit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Marc Stein

Leandro Barbosa had lofty goals for 2020. After playing 14 seasons in the N.B.A., Barbosa had hoped to make one more trip to the Olympics with Brazil’s national basketball team — his third — at age 37.

In these coronavirus times, Barbosa, like so many others, had to abruptly modify his wish list. Actually seeing his baby daughter and holding her became his priority.

While playing for Minas Tênis Clube in Brazil as the league’s top scorer at 20.1 points per game, Barbosa learned on March 21 that he had tested positive for Covid-19 two days earlier in Belo Horizonte. Talita Rocca, his wife, was 38 weeks pregnant and due to give birth on March 26 in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, where the couple live full time.

Amid soon-to-be-confirmed fears that Rocca, a model, had also contracted the virus, her doctors decided, for the baby’s safety, that labor would be induced immediately — with Barbosa barred from the hospital. Rocca’s mother, Geli, took Barbosa’s place in the delivery room. He watched as much of the March 22 birth of Isabela Rocca Barbosa as possible on FaceTime.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Barbosa said. “All I did is just talk on the phone: ‘Listen, you’re going to have to do it by yourself.’ I told my wife, ‘Think on the baby, not on me.’

“We’re all good now. We’re healthy. The baby didn’t have the virus and thank you, God.”

Barbosa, who won a championship with Golden State in 2015 and last played in the N.B.A. with Phoenix in 2016-17, spent the first two weeks of Isabela’s life quarantined away from her and his wife. He said he was still working through how much the episode shook him.

“That night was the worst night of my life,” Barbosa said, referring to March 17, when coronavirus symptoms hit him the hardest after an evening practice with his team.

Minas played its last game on March 14, securing a road win over Corinthians inside a steamy arena in a game without fans, with Barbosa managing just 10 points in conditions that he said left him dehydrated. Before tipoff, he had lobbied team officials to push for the league, Novo Basquete Brasil, to suspend play. Minas’s March 16 game against Pinheiros was indeed postponed, but he began suffering from a blast of pain at “a point in the middle of the head” the next day. The discomfort led Barbosa to fear the worst.

“Really, I felt that I was going to die, my man,” Barbosa said. “I was having a crazy fever. My head was extremely bad. My nose felt like it was closed, but it wasn’t closed. I was feeling a lot of pain in my back — I couldn’t find a position to lay down.”

Barbosa added: “I had fever before. I had pain in my head before. I had pain in my whole body when I was sick, but nothing similar to that. Whatever I get, I always fight through. That’s just something I learned when I got to the N.B.A. But that night was something; it was tough to fight. Because it was different.”

Adding to the stress, Barbosa said, was the refusal of the team’s medical staff to treat him at his home in fear of contracting the virus. Barbosa credited the family’s driver, Fabiano da Silva, for nursing him through the first night and driving him six hours from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo after it was confirmed he had the virus and air travel was no longer possible.

After concerns about her own breathing and platelet count during delivery, Rocca had to wait until the day after birth before she was allowed to take Isabela in her arms. Barbosa was instructed to isolate for two weeks once he arrived in São Paulo, but his brother Marcelo insisted that Leandro stay with him. The brothers are close after they spent considerable time together in the United States during Leandro’s N.B.A. career.

“He wouldn’t let me be alone,” Leandro Barbosa said. “I said, ‘What if you get it?’ He said: ‘I don’t care. Then we’ll both have it.’”

He added: “Talita’s mother didn’t get the corona. My brother didn’t get the corona. My driver didn’t get the corona. Just me and my wife, man. Can you believe that?”

Barbosa, who has two children from a previous marriage, was not expecting such a trying start to building a family with Rocca. They were married last July, and he signed with Minas in December, figuring a strong season in the N.B.B. would serve as ample preparation for an Olympic qualifying tournament in June.

Brazil was originally scheduled to join Germany, Mexico, Russia, Tunisia and the host, Croatia, in a six-team playoff for one of the four remaining berths in the 12-nation men’s Olympic basketball field for Tokyo. Those Olympics were postponed for a year, until July 2021, leaving him with a new basketball aim: He continues to urge the Brazilian league to cancel the rest of its season.

Minas’s game on March 14 was the league’s second to last before play was suspended. Barbosa has been critical of the league for not shutting things down earlier — “They were the last sport in Brazil to stop,” he said — and he questioned the wisdom of planning to restart when “everything is shut down over here.”

“I would have loved to come back,” Barbosa said. “The reason why is because I think we have the potential to win the championship. But I got the virus. I know how it is. It’s impossible to have the league continue. Right now, it’s not about the business. It’s about our health.”

  • Updated April 11, 2020

    • When will this end?

      This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • Is there a vaccine yet?

      No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.


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