Balls: Jusuf Nurkic
Vaccines, big waves, Key lime pie
“Healthcare, markets, foreign policy, ethics, basketball… It’s the perfect ‘Balls’ column,” Scott Ross wrote, after I messaged him about one of my favorite bball players doing something truly heroic, or trying to. Go Scott!
Jusuf Nurkić, the Bosnian-born starting center for the Portland Trailblazers, has experienced firsthand the emotional toll of the COVID 19 pandemic, having lost several relatives to the disease, including his grandmother, who died last summer. Meanwhile, his native land has suffered the third-most deaths per capita -- 2,927 per million -- of any country on Earth, trailing only Peru and Hungary.
A year into the pandemic, Nurkić decided to take matters into his own hands, attempting to purchase from the United States enough doses of the vaccines to protect all of his fellow Bosnians.
"I tried to buy it for the whole country. I figured out the money, the plan and everything. But we still can't do it,” the Bosnian big man told ESPN.
Where does a guy like Nurk get that kinda cash? Nurkic has thus far made $31 million playing in the NBA and is due to make another $12 million next season, with a partial guarantee of $4 million, so he doesn’t personally have all the money, but one can imagine he knows people. Just how much money would it take to make his dream come true? Let’s do a little cocktail napkin math...
The population of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a modest 3.3 million people, less than half that of New York City. The U.S. is paying about $39 per person for the Pfizer vaccine; let’s say that Nurk only feels the need to vaccinate people 18 and over, which is roughly 85% of the country or 2.8 million, meaning Nurk needs about $109 million. But! B&H has already distributed 470,000 doses, or about $9 million worth, so Nurk needed “just” $100 million, give or take.
While the demand for the vaccine is clearly there, what about the supply? Could the U.S. even swing a deal like that? Easily. In May, the Brookings Institute ran the numbers and, depending on a variety of scenarios, projected that by the end of 2021 the U.S. will have a surplus of between 460 million and 1.12 billion doses of the vaccine. The U.S. is so comfortable with its projected stockpile that as recently as May, public-health officials told the Wall Street Journal they didn’t even need AstraZeneca to apply for approval for their much cheaper and easier to store vaccine. Yes, these estimates all involve the quaintly pollyannaish assumption that every adult in America will subject themselves to potential chip-tagging or magnetizing. But, hey, let’s hope for the best and take their numbers at face value.
Unfortunately for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nurkić’s quest led him to the halls of Washington DC, where US policy has thwarted his efforts. The federal government has leveraged the Defense Production Act to prevent the export of vaccines before any and all domestic orders have been filled, which on the one hand, sure, makes a certain kind of sense. But when you’re headed toward a minimum surplus of 50% of your immediate need, maybe spread the love a little, especially to an ally in good standing with aspirations of membership in NATO. And most especially to an ally that’s willing to pay cash money.
This is not to belittle the needs of any of the poorer nations that are short of vaccines, but if Nurkic’s willingness to pay for vaccines can both get his own people vaccinated while simultaneously subsidizing the vaccination of, say, India, well, that’s a win-win! Especially given that, setting aside intellectual property issues, the real barrier to entry for a country the size of B&H into the vaccine production game is the building of the facilities. If the US already has the infrastructure to overproduce, what’s the point of a country of 3 million building their own factory? Would it occur to anyone to suggest that Chicago build their very own vaccine factory? This is Econ 101, folks.
Nurkić’s frustration is compounded by the fact that many Americans fail to share his enthusiasm for the vaccines.
"All these countries are suffering and you have the United States, obviously the No. 1 in the world, has the vaccines and people don't want to get vaccinated," he told ESPN. "I just feel like humanity has kind of failed, because all the countries around should get at least some of those vaccines, right?"
Yes, the millions of people resistant to the vaccines is maddening, with a quarter of Amricans saying they would refuse the vaccine if it were offered to them. And there have unquestionably been myriad failures in the fight against COVID 19, but it’s pretty clear that the vaccines are not chief among them. By using groundbreaking technology and cutting miles of red tape, humanity was able to develop in record time vaccines that have forestalled our doom, vaccines that many had predicted would take years to develop.
Don’t give up, Nurk. Maybe hit up AstraZeneca. Their vaccine might not work quite as well, but it’s way cheaper and it’s not made in America. It’s worth a phone call.
(Editor’s note: “Balls” is the column Scott will be writing for the new Paloma Media site. As for what is Paloma…)
A little more about Nurk and the Trail Blazers, which as a team have meant a lot to me and my family. As I write in a sort of farewell letter to Portland in 2019:
And I will miss the squad that took us through some recent hardships, including my daughter’s father living with us as he dies of lung cancer. As I have written before, he was a basketball star in his youth, and we leaned hard this year into the Portland Trail Blazers, this team of great heart, great toughness, a bunch of sweet, driven players who believed they could get us to the finals and almost did, we’d set our dinner plates around the TV and scream and cheer, we thank these guys so much, they made the season bright, and my daughter and I are already scoping out bars in Brooklyn that show West coast games so we can keep watching them play.
An example of making our season bright: here are the final seconds of the four overtime game against the Nuggets. It’s May 4, 2019. The big blond is my husband, my daughter’s dad is next to him, he would die within six weeks and was so so sick at this point, but look at this guy, up on his feet, it was amazing.
Here’s the highlight reel, money shot at 3:02
I am not going to post the video here, it’s too grueling, but in May 2019, Nurk went down with what anyone could see was a grievous injury. The thing I remember most about the horror of that moment is CJ McCollom coming over and shielding his teammate from the cameras, such a simple and completely heroic act, these guys man, and Dame, it’s all Dame. We all have heart for our teams, but if you for some reason need a team, you really can do worse than the Blazers. And they’ve got Melo, too.
This week’s recommendations:
Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence, by Bryan Burrough, is a tremendous book, I got a little into the whys of it yesterday on Twitter, the overlaps with Portland (though, grazie dio, with less firepower*), and the absolute bafflement I feel that any Weather Underground or Black Liberation Army members are made heroes of. Michael Moynihan dug into the grotesque benightedness of their welcome into academia in “How 1960s Radicals Ended up Teaching Your Kids", and my friend (and former history teacher) Bill Hogeland linked a a piece about a rehabilitation tour some of these people tried to make and admitted that, as a fourteen year-old in 1969, he had a poster of Bernadine Dohrn’s mugshot on his wall.
Dorhn, btw, is an utterly terrible and unrepentant person, someone who used people’s children as beards and is on record saying, of the Tate-LaBianca murders, "First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the pig Tate's stomach! Wild!" She is, as I write about our current crop of would-be revolutionaries, my least favorite person. And speaking of: another Portland piece from me will be dropping in 3… 2…
100 Foot Wave premieres tonight on HBO and I am totally going to be there for it.
On the opposite end of the wave spectrum is Valentino Park and Pier in Red Hook, Brooklyn, named for slain firefighter Louis Valentino, Jr. Matt Welch and his six-year old daughter Coco and I spent a little time at the postage-stamp-sized beach on Friday, Coco totally got her swim on, and then we walked about a hundred feet to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie, where all they serve is Key lime pie, by the pie but also on a stick, frozen, covered with dark chocolate or raspberry jam and white chocolate. I can definitely recommend the latter.
Also, the idea (that Matt and I fleetingly had) that the pie-pops are so big you might split one? Yeah, nah, bad idea; you want it all. Also, to take a little walk along the water looking the Statue of Liberty and wondering how, at 95 degrees and a like percentage of humidity, it is so incredibly pleasant right here.
Until soon xx Nancy
*I posted this unaware of yesterday’s mass shooting in Portland, which has taken the life of an 18-year old woman. I’ll bring you details as I know them. https://nypost.com/2021/07/18/seven-injured-one-dead-in-senseless-portland-shooting/