This time last week, it seemed nearly incomprehensible that the NBA season could be suspended. The coronavirus pandemic was less real here in the United States, with only mumblings that games could be played without fans in attendance. And yet the signs were all there. Japan’s professional baseball league, defined by an atmosphere more akin to an American college football game than an MLB game, was beginning to hold games in empty stadiums. Countries around the world had been limiting travel, with Italy closing its borders all together. In the United States, travel had been restricted to particular hotspots Italy and South Korea, and the signs of the first community spread of COVID-19 were found in California.
The league and its owners convened this past Wednesday afternoon to discuss options on how to approach the season in light of coronavirus. Some owners suggested playing games without fans in attendance, while others, including Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, preferred the league suspend the season for a few weeks. Then, on Wednesday night, moments before tipoff, a game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was abruptly cancelled, an unprecedented move made by the league. It would come immediately apparent that Rudy Gobert, the center for the Utah Jazz, was diagnosed with COVID-19.
While the spread of COVID-19 is becoming worse, its economic impact is as well, should not be taken lightly in any respect, and arguably will have much more lasting consequences.
The sequence of events set off a firestorm, which was particularly fueled by a video of Gobert being flippant about the virus two days prior. The league, now having its “Patient Zero”, had no choice but suspend the season. Players and media members at the game were held in quarantine throughout the night as testing was performed on each and every one to ensure no one else had the virus. The following day, it came apparent that Gobert’s teammate, Donovan Mitchell, was diagnosed with COVID-19, which undoubtedly created tension between the two players. With the NBA suspending its season, several other sports leagues followed suit, including the NHL and MLS, while one of the marque sporting events of March, NCAA’s March Madness, was cancelled outright.