NBA Closes Doors Amid COVID-19 Threat, More Leagues Follow Suit
Hunter O. Lyle – Sports Editor
Sam Tapper – Sports Writer
After minutes of deliberation between head coaches and officials just before tip-off at the Utah Jazz versus Oklahoma City Thunder game, which was planned to start at 7:30 on Wednesday night, both teams were sent to their locker rooms. Following this, fans streamed out of the building, as the news broke soon after that Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The NBA’s immediate response following this news was to suspend the season moving forward indefinitely, to ensure the safety of players, staff and fans of the rapidly developing pandemic. While both the Jazz and the Thunder were being quarantined in their respective locker rooms, five other teams in the NBA were instructed to self-quarantine: the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors — all of whom had played against Gobert and the Utah Jazz in the past 10 days, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
All four games that were currently in progress that night were allowed to finish as scheduled, including the Pistons-76ers matchup in Philadelphia, P.A. Piston’s guard Langston Galloway expressed his concern after the game and noted that the measures taken by the teams were put in place to protect all involved.
“I’m sure I probably had contact with [Gobert.] But at the same time, like I said, [I’m] just taking precautions,” Galloway said via a Sports Illustrated interview after the Pistons-76ers game. “We’ve been washing our hands; and when the reports started coming out, everybody’s kind of been on their hand sanitizer, washing their hands. Just staying focused on that moment.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19, which is a respiratory virus that started Wuhan, China in late 2019, the virus spreads via person-to-person from respiratory droplets and the touching of contaminated surfaces, which can then infect a person when brought to the eyes, nose or mouth.
The suspension of the season is the latest step taken by the league, following precautions taken earlier which included limited media access to locker rooms pre- and post-game, and keeping reporters six to eight feet away from all players. The NBA was also flirting with the idea of having teams play in front of completely empty stadiums.
Now a day after the confirmation of Gobert, Jazz teammate guard Donovan Mitchell has also tested positive, becoming the second player as of now to be infected. While Gobert was not in the area last night with his fellow teammates, Mitchell was, posing the potential threat of further spread. At the team, neither was aware that they had contracted the virus. However, league sources have said that prior to his diagnosis, Gobert had not taken the global pandemic seriously.
“Jazz players privately said that Rudy Gobert had been careless in the locker room, touching other players and their belongings,” Adrian Wojnarowski, senior ESPN’s insider, said via Twitter. “Now a Jazz teammate has tested positive.”
As the NBA uses this time off to plan the next steps of safety precautions, similar measures are being taken across the world of sports. The NCAA, which was gearing up for the men and women’s basketball tournaments, chose to cancel all games going forwards in those two programs, as well as all other sports dating up to June 24.
The MLB followed in suit, ending spring training, which was taking place in Arizona and Florida, as well as delaying the start of the regular season — originally scheduled for March 26 — at least two weeks, which could drastically affect the contracts and payment of players throughout the league.
The third professional sport to temporarily end its season until future notice was the NHL, a direct result of the NBA’s same decision. The NHL released a statement on Thursday morning, saying it was inappropriate to continue as things currently stand.
“For the last couple of weeks, [the NHL has] been monitoring what’s been going on. We went from dealing with things on a day-to-day basis to an hour-by-hour basis, and then it was in minutes,” Bettman said in an interview with CNBC. “We were constantly evolving our strategy about our teams playing or not playing. But last night, when the NBA had a positive test, and they had to cancel a game at that moment, it was clear to me, and through all of calculus, we knew, that once a player tested positive it would be a game-changer.”