This summer was supposed to be a big one for Toronto Raptors center Khem Birch. The 29-year-old had just inked his first big NBA payday and, after years as a backup big, the Canadian was stepping into a much bigger role as Toronto’s starting center.
He arrived in Toronto on September 18, about a week before training camp was scheduled to begin and was quickly able to get to work. Then came the news he and so many others have dreaded for the past almost 19 months. He, his wife, and his daughter had tested positive for COVID-19.
Thankfully, it wasn’t that bad, Birch said.
“We’re all 100% fully vaccinated too, so thank God,” he said. “If we weren’t it probably would have been worse.”
Birch lost his sense of smell and battled some fatigue for a little while. His wife lost her sense of taste, smell, and had the same fatigue issues. His daughter was “perfect,” he said.
The next steps for Birch aren’t entirely clear. He’s expecting to be back on the court Monday night when Toronto takes on the Houston Rockets, but he’s not totally sure how he’s going to feel. He said he hasn’t done very much research into the long-term impact of COVID-19 and, for now, he’s not too worried about it.
“We’ll see, I’ll see tonight,” he said. “If I feel different than I did in the previous years then I’ll probably be more worried about it but right now I haven’t been doing research or anything about it.”
Toronto is going to need Birch back to his old self. He, along with Precious Achiuwa, are the only quasi-centers on the roster and they’re going to be asked to take on some very big challenges this year. It’s nothing Birch isn’t used to. Even at 6-foot-9, 230ish-pounds, he’s spent his whole career taking on much bigger centers. But without much center depth, the Raptors don’t have very much wiggle room if Birch isn’t ready to go when the regular season tips off.