The National Basketball Association has decided to suspend the basketball season, after a player tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The player has been identified as Rudy Gobert, a center for the Utah Jazz who is known as the ‘Stifle Tower.’ In a statement, the league explained, “The test result was reported shortly prior to the tip-off of tonight’s game between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder at the Chesapeake Energy Center. At that time, tonight’s game was canceled. The affected player was not in the arena.”
The game was about to start—but then players walked out:
.@royceyoung reports that the Thunder-Jazz game was seconds away from tipping off when the Thunder’s head medical staffer sprinted onto the floor to talk to referees in Oklahoma City.
At that point, players and staff were sent back to their respective locker rooms. pic.twitter.com/WsSOU09kVP
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 12, 2020
Fans started booing:
Thunder vs. Jazz game is being delayed with questions surrounding Rudy Gobert and Emmanuel Mudiay sickness keeping them out of tonight’s lineup. It hasn’t been officially called, but players walked off the floor and back to their locker rooms. pic.twitter.com/NfduwhSo1h
— Darren M. Haynes (@DarrenMHaynes) March 12, 2020
After the news of his diagnosis broke, a recent video of Gobert touching microphones in a press room started circulating:
Gobert touched the microphones after being asked about the illness:
As part of the Jazz’s COVID-19 response, shootaround availability was done in the ZBBC media room today rather than on the court. As Rudy Gobert got finished discussing the situation, he stood up, leaned over and made it a point to touch every mic and recorder in front of him. 😂
— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) March 9, 2020
Over the weekend, as the coronavirus started to spread across the United States, there had been talk that the NBA and other sports leagues might consider games without spectators. Los Angeles Lakers star forward LeBron James had said on Saturday that he wouldn’t even consider playing without fans present—only to walk back his comments on Tuesday.
“It’s funny because when I was asked the question of ‘Would you play with no fans,’ I had no idea that it was actually a conversation going on behind closed doors about the particular virus,” he said. “Obviously, I would be very disappointed not having the fans, because that’s what I play for, my family and my fans… But you gotta listen to the people that’s keeping track of what’s going on, and if they feel like it’s best for the safety of the players, safety of the franchise, safety of the league to mandate that, then we all listen to it.”
On Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors announced that they would play the Brooklyn Nets at the Chase Center without fans; California and New York both have some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Before tonight’s decision to suspend games, the NBA had reportedly been considering whether to put the season on hiatus or play without fans:
Several teams were willing to put the games on hiatus, but the rest wanted to move toward eliminating fans from arenas to continue playing games, sources tell ESPN. One team wanted to keep status quo until a governmental/public mandate dictated change: The New York Knicks.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 12, 2020
According to one reporter, the New Orleans Pelicans refused to play against the Sacramento Kings because one of the referees had observed a Monday night game with the Jazz:
The Pelicans, I’m told, are pushing hard for this game to not be played. Team officials are on standby. The Kings are already on the court. Tip-off in 5:30 and…no Pelicans. https://t.co/xPhGYGp6qu
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) March 12, 2020
This has everything to do with the Pelicans players. Word spread about official Courtney Kirkland, and it was a tipping point.
“Our guys don’t want to play,” one Pelicans source tells @TheAthleticNBA
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) March 12, 2020
The NBA’s regular season was scheduled to end on April 15th, with playoffs running from mid-April through May, and the finals in June.