AD Durr of the Liberty was perhaps near death during an...

AD Durr of the Liberty was perhaps near death during an ordeal in 2020 with long-haul COVID. Credit: NBAE via Getty Images/Steven Freeman

There were nights, frightening nights, when all AD Durr could do was lie on a blowup mattress in the living room in an apartment in Atlanta and concentrate on breathing.

A little more than a month after testing positive for COVID-19 in June 2020, the Liberty guard formerly known as Asia Durr had gone from a healthy 145-pound professional basketball player to a 115-pound skeleton who could barely walk.

Durr regularly vomited and spit up blood, dealt with stabbing lung pain and needed assistance just getting to the bathroom. Durr’s fiance, Taylor Johnson, slept on a mattress next to Durr. There were times when the two just held hands and prayed that they would get through the night.

“We would be calling the hospital every few hours,” Johnson said. “There were more than a few points where I thought AD was just going to pass away.”

Said Durr: “I was in a dark place for a long time.”

After two years of suffering with long-haul COVID — a condition the CDC estimates could impact as many as 23 million Americans — Durr finally is in a better place, both physically and emotionally.

Durr has rejoined the Liberty after missing the last two seasons and feels blessed to feel mostly healthy and back to playing the game.

AD Durr #25 of the New York Liberty handles the...

AD Durr #25 of the New York Liberty handles the ball during practice on April 29, 2022 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Credit: NBAE via Getty Images/Evan Yu

Still, much has changed since Durr’s rookie season, when Durr started 15 games after being the No. 2 overall pick by the Liberty in the 2019 WNBA Draft. Durr has a new coach and almost all new teammates and sometimes finds it hard to accept just how much the sickness has caused Durr to miss.

It’s not just Durr’s job that has changed; Durr has been forever altered by the experience over the last two years. Lying on that air mattress, Durr had time to reflect. It eventually led to talking to a therapist and deciding it was time to make some changes. Life, Durr said, is too short not to be “my true self.”

Durr now goes by AD and uses they/them/their pronouns. They does not put a title on themselves such as nonbinary or transgender. Durr is believed to be one of two current players in the WNBA to publicly use pronouns other than she/her, with the other player being Minnesota’s Layshia Clarendon, who used to play for the Liberty.

“I feel like I had to hide who I was in the past,” Durr said. “But [my therapist] was like it’s OK to be you even if you are different from everyone else or even if people don’t really agree with that or like that. Still be you. Live your truth and be happy.”

Before getting sick with COVID-19, Durr’s life had revolved around basketball almost since first picking up a ball at age 3. Named the No. 2 prep prospect in the nation by ESPNW, Durr signed with Louisville and averaged 18.7 points from the player’s sophomore through senior seasons. Durr was named the Dawn Staley Award winner, given to the college game’s top guard, as a senior and led the Cardinals to a Final Four appearance.

Durr was thrilled to be taken by the Liberty at No. 2 in 2019 and was the Liberty’s third-leading scorer as a rookie at 9.7 points per game.

When first diagnosed with COVID-19 in 2020, Durr figured to be out for a few weeks and then join the team in the WNBA bubble in Florida.

Instead, the next two years would test Durr physically and emotionally, seeing 15 different doctors trying to get some relief for the symptoms, which at various times included heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chills, sweats, brain fog and stomach issues.

Basketball, which had always been an escape, suddenly was taken away. Not only could Durr not think about picking up a basketball, but there were times when even watching a game was too much.

“There was no energy to do any kind of physical activity,” Johnson said. “It was a struggle just getting motivated to get up and brush our teeth. It was so bad and so scary.”

Things started to turn for Durr at the end of last summer, slowly beginning to gain some strength. Durr was able to go see a Liberty game in Atlanta last season and was overwhelmed by the reception from teammates. When Durr finally stepped on the court for the first practice, the feeling was overwhelming.

“It was very emotional,” Johnson said. “Just having been through so much for two years and then being able to walk back in that locker room and see your locker and your name. AD was not designed to do anything other than what AD is doing.”

Now Durr is adjusting to playing a lesser role while regaining strength and learning with new teammates. Entering Friday night’s game in Seattle against the Storm, Durr was averaging 7.4 minutes off the bench.

“They’ve made really big steps the last week,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said Tuesday. “The fog is not there anymore. It feels like they’re getting a feel for the game again. It takes time. Especially the symptoms they had to face. That’s just terrible, really terrible. But they’re inspirational that they can get back out there and do something that they love.”

Durr now hopes to inspire others out there who are going through a hard time, whether it be with their identity or mental or physical health.

Said Durr: “I think a lot of people struggle with being their true self because they’re scared of people judging them and not being accepted and bullied. That’s the reason why kids and people are scared to be different. There’s so much judgment in this world. I just want to let people know I was once that person. I was scared to be myself. But it’s OK. Even if you are different.”

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