Up Next

As Told To

Pooh Jeter on returning to China to hoop: ‘It will definitely be exciting to play again’

The former NBA guard on the impact of the coronavirus, in his own words


Pooh Jeter is back in China in the midst of a two-week self-quarantine, as the Chinese Basketball Association prepares to resume play in April.

The former Sacramento Kings point guard, who has played in China for the past eight years, had returned home to Los Angeles with his family in January after the coronavirus caused a major lockdown in the country and the CBA eventually postponed play.

Jeter, 36, arrived Wednesday in Fujian, where he currently plays for the Fujian Sturgeons. He reveals what his experience has been like in his own words.

Our last game was Jan. 21. We were playing away at Bayi. Our team gave us face masks and told us there was some stuff going on. Then we played the game.

The next day we flew out to Guangzhou for the start of Chinese New Year. My family and I then left for Bangkok for five days during the break. We started to hear more about the coronavirus. And then I’m hitting up the team, like, ‘Yo, what’s going on?’ It’s Friday, Jan. 24, and coach told us to be back on Sunday before 11 p.m. I asked the coach what was going on. Coach just said to come back and we’ll have a meeting with everybody on Monday. I told him that I got my family with me. And he told me to trust him and come back.

When I came back from Bangkok, the quarantine was about to start. Stuff was closed down. It was a ghost town. Nobody was on the streets at all. My assistant coach and I went out to get food for the family that Monday because everything was closed. Even downstairs in the hotel restaurant they started shutting things down. I was telling my wife, like, ‘yeah, it’s time to go.’ I’ve never seen it like this before.

We had a team meeting on Monday and the team advised, ‘It’s best for your family to leave.’ They got me a flight on Jan. 28.

That flight was so packed coming back to the States. We left from Xiamen to the Jiangsu province to L.A. They said, ‘We don’t have no business class seats.’ I said, ‘Man, I ain’t tripping. Me and my family can’t be tripping, man. Let’s just get us on that flight to get back home.’

Pooh Jeter and his family.

Courtesy of the Jeter family

Landing, it was like, ‘Woo.’ Like it was weird to be back so early. Because it was the end of January.

When I came home, I was speaking about awareness. I’m telling people like CP [Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul] in text messages, ‘Bro, players need to start being informed about the coronavirus, because it’s about to get serious.’ I had CP and [Portland Trail Blazers forward] Trevor [Ariza] put ‘Pray for Wuhan’ on their shoes right before the All-Star break. It hadn’t really reached Europe yet. NBA players are asking, ‘What are you doing back home?’ I said, ‘Bro, it’s this coronavirus. They shut down the CBA. We don’t even know when we’re going to start back up.’

I was telling the players that China loves the NBA and y’all got to start responding and praying for people in China because they love y’all. But what’s crazy is people don’t really understand what you’re going through until they’re in it, and now that it hit America and everywhere else, it’s like, ‘Now I know what you’ve been talking about.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s why I came home.’

I’m hearing so much great news from my teammates and other people in China saying that China is getting better. They announced that the CBA was going to start back in early April, and now America is crazy. What do I do? I got my family back home in L.A., but then I’m going into a situation where I don’t really know what’s going on. It was, let me go make the sacrifice and just leave my family at home.

There were some people that was telling me, ‘Yo, don’t even go back to China.’ But we had so much of our stuff there that I got to go back because we had to get some of our belongings for the kids and everybody. Everybody was like, ‘Are you sure?’ The second-guessing started hitting. Now I’m talking to different players and league officials. But once I talked to Steph Marbury [Beijing Royal Fighters head coach and former NBA and CBA player], I decided to return. I called him and said, ‘Where are you at?’ He said, ‘I’m in China.’

And Marbury was giving me the updates and he been connected to the league for years. He knows China, especially Beijing, and has connections with the Beijing government. So, when I’m getting that word from him, I’m like, ‘Oh, OK, it’s all good.’ I ain’t tripping because he over there. But going to that return flight from L.A. to Taipei, it was just more emotionally on my mind because of my family. Even my wife was like, ‘Yeah, go out there. You’re under contract. So, go out there. We are going to take care of the family, so you’re going to be good. Just go out there and do what you got to do.’

Once I found out that people are starting to come back it was like, ‘Definitely. Why not?’

This is my eighth year in China. Let me just continue to do the things I can do to definitely make my family life better, and just continue definitely to do great things in this league.

LAX was empty. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, man, this low-key almost like a ghost town.’ The flight was packed though. I was like, ‘dang, maybe people are trying to get out of L.A. now to get away from what’s going on.’

Flying from Taipei to Shanghai was a whole other story during my layover. The airport was a ghost town and people got all the [COVID-19 protective] suits on. It’s real serious. There’s a long line for paperwork you got to fill out. They give you green, yellow or red stickers just to determine what’s going on with you when you get off the flight. Everybody for the most part was really getting green and yellow. I didn’t see anybody with a red sticker. And they checked temperatures before you get on a flight. Green sticker says you’re good. Yellow was pretty good as well. I have a yellow stamp on my passport.

Security wasn’t like Star Wars is with the whole uniform. But they are protecting everybody. Even when you get inside the [airport tram car] to take you to another terminal there is [protective] plastic. When I landed in my city, I had to get inside a car to go on to a hotel. It was something I will never forget. When I got into a Buick van, there was a plastic thing that separated me from the driver. Even some of the doors had plastic. I don’t really remember seeing this before. But they are on top of safety.

Now I’m in a hotel. I can’t really leave the room at all. I got to do a two-week quarantine. They’ll check your temperature twice a day. Bring you food. You got to open up the windows, like, every other hour. They are checking on me like, ‘You OK?’

This process has not been scary at all. It’s been really cool. God, they’ve been really treating me well and taking care of me, especially my team. My team left some snacks.

I am able to be in communication with people, but I just can’t see nobody.

I’m FaceTiming everybody. They are like, ‘You going to be busy?’ I’m like, ‘How am I going to be busy? I ain’t going to be doing nothing at all.’ So, I’m just FaceTiming the kids. Everybody’s been messaging and checking up on me and praying for me. Everybody was worried first of all about me getting on a plane and coming to China, especially my grandma. My grandma is like 90-something years old. Even when I was home, she was like, ‘You going back to China?’ And I was like, ‘Once the season comes back I’m going to go.’

You know what the crazy thing is? These eight years I’ve been playing in China, I don’t really do nothing anyway. I’m at the hotel or I go hoop or I may go eat somewhere. But other than that, I’m chilling. It already seemed like I was quarantined for eight years already.

I watch all my shows. I don’t really watch TV at home [in Los Angeles], so when I come to China, I have something to watch and do. Man, I’m about to catch up on all my shows. I’m about to read. But it’s a time to reflect, too.

It will definitely be exciting to play again. I know China. And China definitely wanted to show it did things the right way. And once we play, it would be some type of history, especially being part of an organization and league that’s continuing to play. I don’t think they are going to have fans there, though. I think it’s going to be behind closed doors. But just to be a part of something like this is pretty dope. I just hope that everything goes well.

Former Sacramento Kings point guard Pooh Jeter now plays for the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s going to be basically like a closed-door scrimmage that is supposed to be in two cities. We are going to be in Guangdong and Qingdao playing, like, four games a week. Because the regular season was supposed to end March 13. We got 16 games left to make up. Playing four games a week, it’s going to be gone by fast. But it’s cool as long as we’re hooping. That’s the exciting part. But I know we’ve probably got a month and a half left. We will probably be back at the crib with the season over sometime in May.

I’ve been staying in shape this whole time since the league was postponed, and now that I’m back, I’m not able to work out. But I’ll figure out ways to definitely stay in shape and try to do something like push-ups. I’m not able to be in contact with nobody, for sure. I hope we could get an exercise bike or treadmill in here or something. But it’s my first day, so I don’t even know what I can ask for or expect. But I can probably ask for that. I think they would probably deliver that in here or something like that.

Ty Lawson, my teammate, was coming in tomorrow. Dante Cunningham is coming in pretty soon too. Sonny Weems was probably one of the first that came back to China. And he did that almost a week and a half ago. He is almost done with his quarantine.

I think the United States really needs to be in contact with China. China has had so much time to really figure things out. It may cause some type of quarantine and lockdown. You got to imagine the people in China were quarantined for like a month of not leaving their cribs. Maybe longer than that. It might get to that point. The people in America and globally need to really pay attention to what China did to recover.

My clothing and shoe store Laced in Lawndale, California, just got it closed down due to COVID-19. So, that’s a bummer. But I get it, keeping everybody inside and healthy. My dad is 60-something and running the store. Now my dad has to stay home for his health reasons. Even though he’s good, but I just don’t want nothing to happen at all. So, the store closed until further notice.

People really need to take care of themselves in America, as in washing their hands with hot water. If you have a mask, you’re supposed to change it every four hours. And just really get in the house. Hopefully, everybody did their grocery store shopping and did all their shopping. But now it’s time to really be inside and to stay out of the streets. Get inside and just really reflect on everything. And hopefully, we continue to hear the good news. But just take care of yourself. That’s all.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.