With Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the panic-inciting coronavirus, the NBA was put in an unprecedented position. Following Adam Silver’s executive decision to suspend play, the league we love is now on hiatus until further notice. Though life without basketball will be gloom, it’s important to realize that this was the right thing to do.
To conclude one of the most bizarre days in recent memory, the NBA has officially opted to suspend the 2019-20 season until further notice due to the global pandemic that is the coronavirus. The league had been on high-alert during the weeks before their decisive announcement on Wednesday night, so once Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus, the NBA wasted no time in taking the best possible measures.
There is a lot to unpack here. Before we do, though, we should note that there is no historical comparison for this situation within the NBA. The only possible juxtaposition would be the AIDS epidemic and Magic Johnson’s eventual diagnosis in 1991. Despite this, upon evaluating both dilemmas, it is rather easy to recognize that the two situations are not even in the same stratosphere. Though there are far more people living with AIDS than there are with the coronavirus, people cannot acquire HIV through simple contact like they can with COVID-19.
Because of this troubling fact, there is no telling just how big this crisis can become. Fortunately for everybody involved within the NBA, front office executives and league officials alike are taking every potentially necessary precaution to reduce the swelling of the now-global pandemic.
Be honest: Did you ever think you would be around to see something as unimaginable as this? Did you ever feel the coronavirus was going to make this much of an impact?
I know for a fact that I didn’t.
In fact, I brushed off any possibility of ever coming in contact with it. Though I had heard light rumblings regarding the spread of a new, pneumonia-like flu in China dating as far back as December, human nature is constantly telling us one thing: It won’t happen to us.
In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When you consider the fact that Rudy Gobert—a 27-year-old NBA player who epitomizes physical health—was susceptible to receiving the virus, and has since passed it to his superstar, 23-year-old teammate, Donovan Mitchell, the entire situation becomes incredibly eerie to behold. Donovan Mitchell is three months my junior, nearing his physical prime, and is in better shape than I could ever dream of being. If he can get it, I’m pretty sure anyone can.
Having said that, this does not mean we should enter a period of mass hysteria. While this is a notably haunting and completely unfamiliar situation—one that seems more plausible in a Hollywood blockbuster than it does in real life—it is important to remember that we have a vast knowledge of preventative measures.
Schools are closing at a rapid rate. Large, public gatherings—including sporting events—are either being postponed or canceled altogether. Most places of employment are even urging their workers to conduct business from home. While this is certainly information that can cause feelings of uneasiness amongst citizens, it should instead be looked at as an extremely promising bit of counsel. Stopping the spread of such a contagious virus seems to be a daunting task, but it becomes far more likely when we heed the advice of the resources we have at our disposal.
Fortunately, and to nobody’s surprise, that is exactly what the NBA is doing.
Being the first professional league to take such drastic steps (the NCAA, MLB, NHL, MLS and specific sectors of the NFL have since followed suit), the NBA has officially set the standard for a proper course of action. As previously mentioned, the NBA and its players were already on high-alert during the weeks before their final decision.
Portland guard CJ McCollum was the first to raise real concern over the issue. On February 29th, once the virus was confirmed to have hit Oregon, McCollum announced via Twitter that he would be “taking a break from signing autographs until further notice.”
Two days later, after meeting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NBA sent a memo to each organization. This memo detailed a handful of preventative measures that players, coaches, and team officials were to enact in hopes of preventing possible infection. Of these measures, the most notable were avoiding handshakes, refraining from sharing items, and ending the jersey-swap tradition for the foreseeable future.
At the time, the NBA had zero intentions of canceling games.
Over the course of the following four days, the coronavirus outbreak had reached a previously unparalleled point of concern, thus prompting the NBA to send another memo to all 30 teams on March 6th. In the memo, Adam Silver and his constituents alerted teams that they should begin to prepare to play games with zero fans in attendance, provided that the virus continued to spread.
The day after, when asked by reporters what his opinions were on the NBA’s most recent memo, the face of the NBA, LeBron James, vehemently denied the possibility of playing in empty arenas. “Play games without the fans? Nah, that’s impossible,” James explained. “I ain’t playing if I ain’t got fans in the crowd. That’s who I play for… I play for my teammates, and I play for the fans.”
However, throughout the following three days after James’ comments, the coronavirus continued to grow at a worrisome rate, leading the NBA to restrict non-essential personnel (media members, specifically) from entering the locker rooms of any of the 30 teams. Confirmed COVID-19 cases—and, unfortunately, deaths—had reached an all-time high, leaving LeBron to detract his previous comments.
When asked of his new thoughts regarding the developments of the virus, James again asserted that he would be “disappointed” if the NBA continued to go forward with the idea of a fan-less arena experience. James did mention, though, that “you have to listen to the people that are keeping track of what’s going on.” James continued, stating that “if they feel like what’s best for the safety of the players, safety of the franchises, [and the] safety of the league is to mandate that, then we will all listen to it.”
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, news of that inevitable fan-less experience was going to be made public and go into effect this Thursday. It was official: Teams were going to be playing in arenas full of empty seats.
Obviously, come Wednesday night, this all changed.
The NBA kicked their previous plans to the side when they learned that “a player on the Utah Jazz tested negative for influenza, strep throat, and an upper respiratory infection.” The report went on to state that “the decision was made to test for COVID-19,” in which the result came back positive just before the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder tipped off on Wednesday night.
Following the diagnosis of the at-time-time unknown Jazz player, the NBA somehow pulled off their most respectable maneuver within the entirety of the previous two weeks. Within minutes of catching wind of the positive test, the NBA opted to cancel the Jazz-Thunder game.
Within an hour, that player was revealed to be Rudy Gobert.
Five minutes later, the NBA suspended play for the remainder of the season.
For two straight weeks, the NBA was in a stage of crisis-aversion. They took every preliminary step to ensure the safety of all those involved. Throughout the entire process, league officials were ahead of the curb, citing the health of their players, coaches, and fans to be the most important factor regardless of the outcome. For two straight weeks, the NBA did the right thing. Gobert, at the fault of no one, was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Now, all there is to do is wait to hear more information. Because Gobert and Donovan Mitchell have been playing games regularly, you can guarantee that there will be more players that test positive for the coronavirus. It is just a matter of time until we hear the extent of the spread.
Fortunately, despite the horror that this situation elicits, there have been a handful of extremely heartwarming moments stemming from the controversy. Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, has publicly promoted a program in which hourly employees within the American Airlines Center will receive their regular compensation despite a lack of events to work. As recently as Thursday evening, Cavaliers forward, Kevin Love, has made a generous donation of $100,000 to be split amongst the workers within Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in downtown Cleveland.
While this is most definitely a shock to the system of many, myself—as well as everybody at Fadeaway World—would like to end this on a positive note:
At the end of the day, sports suddenly feel entirely insignificant. While sports have always been a reliable source of entertainment that provides us all with a momentary break from life, we should put more emphasis on the ‘life’ part of the equation. It shouldn’t matter that we are going to be unable to watch sports for the unforeseeable future.
What should matter is a willingness to strive to eliminate any potential burden this can bring forward in the future.
What should matter is the health of not only the basketball players we have come to admire but the entire world as a whole.
What should matter is the humanity of the entire situation.
Be safe out there, everybody.