Kyle Alexander spent 97 days in the NBA bubble — and didn’t see a single meaningful minute of game action.
A rookie on the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat, Alexander arrived in Disney on July 7, three weeks before the regular season resumed. He left on Oct. 12, one day after the Los Angeles Lakers won the championship.
“It definitely had its moments, but it was awesome,” Alexander said, “to be in that kind of environment with one of the hardest working teams in the league with one of the best cultures, and then go to the Finals, get to experience what it takes to win at that level.”
The NBA’s March shutdown came at an unfortunate time for Alexander. The 24-year-old Canadian suffered a knee injury in January while playing for Miami’s G League team, but was verging on a return when Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus.
Alexander finally made his NBA debut in the bubble, playing garbage time in a pair of Heat blowout losses in August.
“I wasn’t in the best state to compete for [playing time]. That part sucked. But as far as jump starting back into my activities and getting healthy and shaking the rust off and getting my touch back on my jump shot, it was the best place to be,” the Milton, Ont., native said.
Now, Alexander starts for Fuenlabrada of Spain’s top league. After the NBA playoffs, he took a month off before moving to Phoenix to ramp up off-season training, under the assumption the NBA might not return until March.
The season began Dec. 22, news of which left Alexander scrambling. He went to a Toronto Raptors minicamp in Los Angeles, but could not secure a deal with his hometown team.
“To have that jersey on my chest and to be representing them, I went in there really motivated. And like I said, I was proud of how I did, but it just didn’t end up working out or making sense at the moment,” Alexander said.
(After waiving Alex Len last week, the Raptors have an open roster spot and a need for a big man. Adding Alexander, a defensively responsible centre with some outside touch, could make some sense.)
When Alexander left Raptors camp without a deal, his agent suggested he look to Europe for an opportunity to get immediate playing time and regain some rhythm. An injury on Fuenlabrada presented such a chance.
Through seven games with the team, he is averaging 7.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just under 20 minutes per game.
Late start to basketball career
Overseas basketball is something in which Alexander’s sister Kayla has plenty of experience. The eight-year WNBA veteran has also played in Australia, France, Poland, Russia, Turkey and Belgium, where she’s currently stationed.
Kayla, 30, missed Kyle throughout their childhood as they passed through high school and college at different times. With both now in Europe, this is the closest their basketball careers have come to overlapping.
“I would hear about my pops telling me that he was playing now or seeing this [coach] and he’s getting better. He grew, but I wasn’t there to witness much of the growth, to be honest, which kind of sucks,” Kayla said.
Kyle didn’t begin playing basketball until 16, despite both parents and older sister spending lots of time with the game.
Before then, his father, Joseph, would drive him and Kayla to school early because Kayla needed to get shots up and there was no point in making two trips back and forth. Kyle would rebound for Kayla and a friend, with some occasional defence.
One time, Kayla, who had a penchant for flaring her elbows, sent Kyle to class with a bloody nose and lip. One-on-one between the siblings was never particularly close.
“She used to kill me. She really used to kill me. Like, it was bad,” Kyle recalled.
Video games were Kyle’s preference until his father finally brought him to a training camp.
“I went there first day smoking layups off the wrong foot against 12-year-old kids and they’re more skilled than me, it’s embarrassing,” Kyle said.
“So I went home that day, set my sister’s net up and just started going at it. And the next day I went in there, I was able to do different things. And that kind of just showed me that I had a work ethic and that I had a drive to want to get better.”
Now, Kayla says the tables have turned.
“Because back then, I was swatting his shots and now he’s swatting mine.”
‘Take care of yourself’
Kayla’s overseas experience has aided Kyle in his transition from the NBA to Europe. She says the advice she had for her brother wasn’t so different from what she tells her teammates on the Canadian national team.
“Have fun, it’s a privilege we get to play and get paid for it, that’s what we love to do. So that’s first and foremost, having fun with it. Advocate for yourself, speak up. If you don’t like something or if you notice anything, it’s good to be vocal. Take care of yourself. Take care of your body as well.”
A self-proclaimed “picky eater,” Kyle says he’s even started to cook — something which Kayla experienced firsthand.
“I didn’t know he was like ‘Chef Kyle.’ That’s amazing,” she said, before adding that he’d made one meal for her — jerk chicken over the summer — which was good, if too spicy.
Kyle’s first couple weeks in Spain even came with a reminder of home, when the country experienced its first snowfall in nearly 50 years.
Still, the goal remains to get back to the NBA. He was recently contacted by Canada Basketball, for whom he’d be able to contribute at the FIBA AmeriCup qualifier — which contains 2024 Olympic ramifications — in Puerto Rico at the end of February.
“It’s a good opportunity to come out here, find yourself play and make money playing the game you love. And then you keep working on it while you’re out here, kind of isolated from your friends and family, you use that as motivation to get better and try and fight your way back,” he said.