November 16, 2021 

‘We’re going to be in the gym!’: Sights and sounds from Asia Durr’s big announcement

After a long COVID battle, big news from the Liberty's former lottery pick

Asia Durr was speechless on Monday night. She had just made an announcement that felt surreal. She compared how she felt in this moment to an evening that had also rendered her speechless: WNBA draft night.

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While on Instagram live, she looked into the camera, smiling and giddy, asking her online audience if they were ready for this announcement. She asked the people tuning in to drop a heart in comments if they were ready for her to get off whatever was on her chest. “Should I go?” she asked the people sitting alongside her in the room.

“I have been cleared TO PLAY BASKETBALL AGAIN,” she said.

“Yeahhhhhhhhh!” she screamed. “LETS GOOOO.”

Her voice lowered, repeating herself to make sure she was crystal clear.  “I have been cleared to play basketball again.” 

Durr had posted an ominous message to her Instagram story on Monday afternoon that she was going live at some point later that evening and she wanted all of her fans and followers “to tap in.”

The former Louisville superstar and 2X ACC player of the year was drafted by the New York Liberty in 2019, second overall. In her rookie season she put up 9.7 points a game and shot under 47 percent from the field in around 27 minutes per game. But Durr was limited in a first professional season where she was battling a groin injury that resulted in off-season hip surgery for a labral tear.

While at the time, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb was confident that Durr would be ready to return to the court at full strength, this was all in the before time. This was before a global pandemic would sweep the nation and change everyday life.

COVID-19, the disease that results from coronavirus, greatly impacted Durr. After missing the 2020 WNBA season due to contracting the virus and not being well enough to play in the Wubble season, Durr explained her journey with the disease. Last January she told her story and explained on her Youtube channel that she had actually contracted the virus twice. Once in February, before doctors even understood or knew how to identify the coronavirus, and then later she officially tested positive again in June.

On an episode of HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, Durr announced to the world that she had been diagnosed as a COVID “Long-Hauler,” a rare condition where the symptoms of the virus linger. 

Her battle with the after-effects was at times debilitating, giving her symptoms such as difficulty breathing, headaches, hemoptysis (spitting up blood), heart palpitations, and a loss of appetite.

But a bit over nine months later, including missing yet another WNBA season to continue recovering, Durr looks to be ready to begin making her journey back to the court. After two seasons of watching her teammates play on TV from her bed, she’s medically cleared to engage in basketball activity and work out in the gym. 

On Monday she announced during the Instagram Live that she went through extensive cardiac testing to make sure that her heart hadn’t been affected by her long bout of COVID-19. She noted that although she had just been officially cleared for basketball activity, she had begun working out for the past six weeks on her own. This past September was the first time Durr had stepped into a gym in around 22 months, almost two years time.

In addition to beaming with pride and flashing her smile, Durr was incredibly grateful on Monday night. She thanked her family, friends and her inner circle who she couldn’t have gotten to this point without. She also had some words of appreciation for the Liberty who she explained were supportive and gave her anything she needed.

“Thank you to the New York Liberty,” she said. The coaches, the staff, everybody. Jonathan [Kolb], coach Walt [Hopkins], literally go down the whole list of everybody from this franchise.”

That list includes Liberty head athletic trainer Terri Acosta, who coordinated Durr’s doctors appointments and was checking in with her periodically. She was even checking in with Durr on Monday night, telling her on the chat below the Instagram Live that she should go to bed so she can be at her doctor’s appointment the next morning. “Terri, I will be up and I will not miss this appointment,” Durr said. “It is 7:27 p.m. You think I’m going to miss that appointment tomorrow?”

Later on during the announcement, Durr began reading some questions out loud in the comments. Someone asked her the simple question of how she feels right now. She answered that since she began working out at the end of September that she’s felt leaps and bounds better than she did earlier this year. One of her physicians gave her some advice, telling her that the only way she’s going to start feeling better is by “working your way back into it.” 

“And ever since I started back man, I literally feel so much better,” she said.  “I do. I feel so much better. I don’t have as many flare-ups now.”

Another person asked her: When will you fully return to the Liberty? Her reply was rather confident. “I’m here.”

But Durr does understand that the road ahead is quite long and it won’t be easy. On Monday she passed a major hurdle, but this is only the beginning and she’ll need to remain patient with herself. She mentioned multiple times that in her most recent workouts she’s noticed that her stamina has been reduced and she’s out of shape. That’s understandable as she hadn’t touched a basketball in over 20 months.

“But I’m excited for this get back,” she said. “Because success doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t. You know I’m so excited about this process. I’m so freaking excited man. It ain’t gonna be easy, but I’m dedicated.”

And the Liberty are excited for Durr too. A source familiar with the team’s thinking expressed how inspiring this step is and how not all players would have the gumption to continue to persevere.

While she shouted at the camera for her fans and supporters to “get y’all tickets” to see Durr play again, a lot has changed for the Liberty since Durr last played with New York. The Liberty moved the Barclays Center and have a completely different coaching staff. The only players on the 2021 roster who Durr had played with professionally were Reshanda Gray and Rebecca Allen — athough in college, she played with forward Kylee Shook and guard Jazmine Jones.

She acknowledged the changes that have occurred since she last suited up in seafoam over two years ago. “We are a very talented team,” she said. “I think the growth that we made in the last year or two has been tremendous. Honestly.”

She’s not wrong. But where does Durr fit on a team that’s full of rising stars in Sabrina Ionescu, Michaela Onyenwere, and DiDi Richards and a veteran core in Betnijah Laney, Sami Whitcomb and Natasha Howard? In addition to filling out some depth in the post, the Liberty could use a combo guard to backup Sami Whitcomb. But that could be a spot for Marine Johannès, who currently isn’t signed, but on New York’s wishlist. If both make it to training camp, they might have to battle it out for a spot.

For now, Durr is reveling in the moment. In the last minutes of her live, she repeated how thankful she is for the here and now. With the song “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips playing in the background, she continued thanking people for showing up for her. She shouted out former teammate Kia Nurse who checked onto the Instagram Live and called out Reshanda Gray, who she refers to as “Gray-Gray”, for having her back. 

Durr bellowed to her friends and loved ones in the room with euphoria over the fact that she can train, something she has yearned for.

“WE’RE GOING TO BE IN THE GYM,” she shouted.

Written by Jackie Powell

Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.

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