John Collins was in the middle of a 22-point, 15-rebound performance on March 11 when the matchup between his Hawks and the Knicks devolved into a game of telephone. News of Rudy Gobert’s COVID-19 diagnosis stopped a game from happening in Oklahoma City that night—and the risk of the rapidly spreading virus later forced the NBA to suspend the season—but Collins’s game had already tipped off. What followed on the State Farm Arena court in Atlanta was “an exchange of information,” Collins said. Coaches shared updates with players on the bench, players told their teammates on the court, and those players relayed the message to their opponents. Basketball became secondary.
“Usually, you don’t talk too much to your opponents as much as we were,” Collins said over the phone last week. “It was really weird, man. It was just weird having to play through that.”
Since the NBA season was suspended last month, Collins has spent time with family in South Florida and is now back in Atlanta where he is cherishing every neighborhood walk and grocery run he can make. I caught up with Collins to discuss what he’s been watching, cooking, reading, and playing during this time, as well as his thoughts on potential pay cuts for players, and much more.
What have you been doing with all this time on your hands?
Honestly, playing video games. I’m trying to read audio books. I am watching Harry Potter again—I haven’t watched Harry Potter in eight years, so now I’m trying to watch them over again. Playing Xbox, working out, doing regular stuff. It’s just been monotonous—it’s been the same thing over and over and over. ... It’s just weird because you want to go out, but the only thing you can do is go to the grocery store.
What audiobooks have you been listening to?
I’ve been reading How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, and then the old version that was written a while back [How to Win Friends and Influence People]. Just trying to branch out.
Are you an NBA 2K guy?
2K all day. I was trying to get into that 2K players’ tournament, no success. But I still play 2K all day every day. I’m a big FIFA guy, Call of Duty guy. I’m a big gamer, man. I’m playing Red Dead Redemption. I’ve never beat it, so I’m trying to do that right now.
What are some of the ways you’ve tried to stay in shape and work out from home?
A lot of body-weight stuff. I’ve been doing push-ups, sit-ups, squats, wall sits, planks, and whatnot. … And then our team has been gracious enough to give us a workout plan to follow, and we’re actually doing live video workouts. So I call them, and they pretty much take me through a workout. I was trying to get some workout equipment—I don’t have any at the house because my practice facility is so close. But now I need some and Amazon is backed up, stores are closed, so it’s all body-weight stuff and conditioning right now.
Those video workouts with the team, how long do those usually last and what do they include?
It’s player-driven, so if I ask them to create a longer workout, they’ll accommodate me. But usually they’re about 20 to 30 minutes, and it’s pretty much taking me through the primary set of workouts. If I’m doing push-ups and sit-ups on my own, this will take me through doing squats or whatever exercise the coach asks me to do. He will say, like, “Split-set squat jumps,” and I’ll have a set of that with a set of push-ups and sit-ups. So that’s what he takes me through, a couple warm-up sets and I go on about my day.
A lot of players have been online during this time, doing Instagram Live or tweeting out videos, but I noticed you haven’t really posted much on social media. Is there any reason for that?
Nothing really happened, but after my suspension I sort of took a break, and I just really haven’t been posting as much. I think I just kind of got used to it, man. It’s funny you asked me that question. Everyone has been in my ear telling me I need to post more, telling me I need to start this, I need to do this. “John, your personality is so great, you’d be great for it. You’re perfect for it.” But I just needed to take a break, honestly. I felt like everything was going crazy for me.
Coming off the suspension, trying to get my head straight, it was a lot. Then for this to happen with the season being suspended, it’s been crazy—but there’s no love lost or hate for IG. I’ve been trying to push myself to post more. I think I’ll come around to it. Once I start it back up, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop again. … But I’m definitely still active, watching, I’ll message and like posts and comment on stuff. But no real posting. All the social media stuff can get crazy.
You mentioned how crazy this year has been with your suspension and now the league’s suspension. What has this stoppage been like for you, given that you didn’t play at the beginning of the season, and you were gearing up to play this last stretch and get these games in?
Yeah, it’s definitely been a bit new. I was gearing up to have an excellent rest of the year. I felt like I put myself in great conversations around the latter half of the year with my play. Everybody liked to throw my numbers and my stats together. We were winning some more games, and, obviously, we have Trae [Young] over there who’s doing his thing and trying to get me involved as well. So it just put a halt on everything. … Sitting out, watching, pushing my teams, struggling those 25 games I was out, that definitely hurts a little more.
How did you deal with being out those 25 games?
I tried to put my head down and work through everything. I feel like I definitely got better during that time, and it was showing—or starting to show—once I caught my stride toward that latter half of the year. I had my assistant coach that I worked with a ton.
The Hawks weren’t going to make the playoffs, but you still had games coming up. Now you don’t know whether you’re going to play them or just go into the offseason. How do you deal with that uncertainty?
I’ve been trying to look at it in the most optimistic way possible. To me, the most optimistic situation is we come back, we have a couple of games, and I think we finish the season. But I have no clue. The league is going to make the decision when they make the decision. Or when they can. I’ve just been trying to stay in shape as much as I can and wait on that phone call. That’s really it. That’s all I have to go on.
I’m sure you saw the report that the owners haven’t fully guaranteed the next round of paychecks for players. [The league has since proposed a 50 percent pay cut to players’ checks starting April 15, and the NBPA has countered with a 25 percent pay cut starting in mid-May.] What was your reaction to that?
It’s new territory for me. I’ve always been a calm, even-keeled guy. So when they tell me stuff like that, I feel like they’re saying that in a worst-case scenario. We have the players association in the NBA who have our best interests at heart and don’t want to see the players treated that way if possible. And if actions can be taken, I feel like they will. So for me, it’s obviously super tough to just be in the situation and know that that’s an option. But I just try to look at it “glass half full” and be optimistic.
You mentioned all you can do is walk to the grocery store—have you had to cook more, or how are you getting food these days?
Oh, definitely. I’ve definitely cooked more than I had before previously. I am blessed enough to still have a chef who comes and takes care of me. But I have cooked on the stove a couple of times, which I’m impressed with.
What’s your go-to food if you are going to cook something?
I just made some burgers, but usually I’ll cook some chicken for some tacos or something. I’m a chicken master. I can do it all with the chicken.
With this extra off time, is there anything off the beaten path that you want to accomplish or that you’ve thought about trying?
The one thing I’ve actually been interested in trying to do is to learn Spanish. I bought all the apps. I bought all the books, the Rosetta Stone, and there’s Duolingo on the app store. That’s the one thing I want to do, because I always wanted to learn Spanish. I struggled with it coming up in school and such. Obviously, I can’t learn it all in a couple months’ time, but I can at least get a nice solid foundation.
Any particular reason why Spanish?
My mom is Puerto Rican. My grandfather is Puerto Rican. So definitely I’ve always wanted to learn. My mom can speak Spanish pretty well—I don’t think she’s fluent anymore, but she can still speak Spanish very well. Most of my family on my mom’s side can. I’ve always been a little mad when they were speaking Spanish, the fact that I sort of know what they’re saying but not all the way. So just stemming from that. And then being a South Florida kid on top of that ... there’s a lot of Caribbean influence in South Florida, hence the Spanish.
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you, as a former dunk contest participant, what you thought about this year’s contest and how it all went down.
All I got to say is ... there was hometown cooking going down there. That’s all I’ll say. It was little home-team cooking. What is Dwyane Wade, one year, two years removed from the league? Derrick Jones was his teammate. So, yeah, that’s all I got to say.
A lot of players, from your early teens to this point, have had their basketball lives scheduled out consistently. Now everything’s put on hold. Do you think that could have a psychological effect on some players, and how do you feel you or the players might deal with that?
I love the game so I try to substitute in other ways—by playing 2K or watching [basketball] or reading about it or remembering. I’ll figure out other ways to temporarily deal with not having to play just by visualizing everything. But it’s definitely something I feel like every hooper struggles with. This has been our whole lives from middle school, high school: school, basketball, and then when we’re pros, it turns into our whole lives. So there’s almost nothing else we know, especially when we get to this level. It takes years of dedication, real lifelong dedication. So it definitely could be a struggle for a lot of guys. I’m struggling for myself, but I feel like I am finding ways to cope.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated the location of the Hawks’ March 11 game.