Thursday March 12, 2020
Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (9) guards against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The basketball world was in shock on Wednesday night after the NBA announced it was suspending the season as the coronavirus outbreak tightened its grip on the United States.
The first rumours of the move came after extraordinary scenes as the Oklahoma City Thunder hosted the Utah Jazz. The teams were on court and ready to tip off when the officials huddled in conversation and the players were told to go to the locker rooms. It later emerged one of Utah’s players had tested positive for coronavirus shortly before the start of the game. Reports indicated the player is the two-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert. It is understood he was not at the arena for Wednesday night’s game. The Jazz did not initially confirm the identity of the player but said in a statement: “The individual is currently in the care of health officials in Oklahoma City.”
The league then confirmed the season had been suspended while it considered how to deal with the pandemic.
“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice,” the league said in a statement. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Jazz and Thunder players were quarantined at the arena. Players from teams who have played the Jazz in the last 10 days – the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons and the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors – have also been told to self-quarantine, according to ESPN.
“I’m sure I probably had contact with [Gobert]. But at the same time, like I said, [I’m] just taking precautions,” Detroit’s Langston Galloway said. “We’ve been washing our hands; and when the reports started coming out, everybody’s kinda been on their hand sanitizer, washing their hands – just staying focused on that moment of, hey, [we have] interaction with a lot of different people and knowing that at the end of the day, you might’ve touched the ball, you might’ve interacted with a fan, and just being cautious with that going forward.”
Gobert himself was doing well, according to his friend Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic. “Was just on the phone with Rudy,” Fournier wrote on Twitter, advising people not to panic.
The NBA is one of the world’s most valuable sports leagues in the world. In 2017, the league brought in $7.4bn in revenue. It also has a younger, more diverse fanbase than its rival leagues in North America.
The Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, said safety was a higher priority than money after hearing news of the suspension. “I trust Adam [Silver, the NBA commissioner],” he told ESPN. “It’s really not about basketball or money. If this is just exploding to the point that players and others have it ... you think about your family. Stunning isn’t the right word. It’s not about the team. It’s about the country and life in general.”
The teams have roughly 20% of their 82-game regular seasons remaining, with the playoffs due to start on 18 April and the finals, which draw in tens of millions of TV viewers around the world, scheduled for June. Early frontrunners for the title had included LeBron James’s Los Angeles Lakers and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks.
The league was plunged into mourning in January after one of the NBA’s all-time great players, Kobe Bryant, was killed in a helicopter crash. It had also lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue after China, one of the league’s biggest overseas markets, had blacked out some games after one NBA team executive tweeted support for the anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
The news came after college sports’ governing body, the NCAA, announced earlier in the day that its season-ending tournament would be played without fans in attendance.
The NBA has played two shortened seasons in the past due to disputes over pay and conditions. Both the 1998-99 and 2011-12 seasons started late due to lockouts. The NHL, which is also approaching the end of its regular season, said it was discussing its options and would provide an update on Thursday.