OKLAHOMA CITY — The NBA suspended its season after postponing the Jazz-Thunder game Wednesday night, which was a result of Utah center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus.
Gobert’s condition was only reported after the game, two days following a press conference in Utah in which, making light of the virus, he put his hands on every surface and recording device he could reach.
Additionally, in the hour after the arena emptied, it was reported by several media outlets, led by The Athletic, that both the Jazz and Thunder remained in their locker rooms, under self-quarantine, waiting to be tested. The Oklahoman reported just after 10 p.m. that Thunder players had left the arena, but the Jazz remained.
There is no immediate threat to the public, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which stated in a release "those who were in attendance at the game are not at risk of catching COVID-19. As a reminder, COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets. Only individuals who are in close contact with a person with COVID-19 would be at risk of exposure."
The fallout in the sports landscape from coronavirus, or COVID-19, had been felt mainly on the international level until Wednesday afternoon, when the NCAA barred fans from its upcoming championships.
Hours later, a mystery ensued in Oklahoma City moments after starters from the Jazz and Thunder had been introduced.
Originally, Thunder medical staffer Donnie Strack conferred with game officials as music played, the fans stood and the teams prepared to tip off.
That conference lasted a minute or two before the three game officials began briefing Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan and Utah coach Quin Snyder.
That conference lasted a couple of minutes, as well, and moments after it dispersed, both teams returned to their locker rooms.
The game was originally scheduled to tip off at 7:10 p.m.. It was 7:37 p.m. when Thunder PA man Mario Nanni announced it had been postponed due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
Long before the game was called, measures had been taken in response to the virus’ threat that could be felt by players, coaches, media and arena workers.
In his pregame media session, a larger dead space between Donovan and media was created to avoid close contact.
Additionally, the Thunder locker room was closed to media prior to the game — and would have been closed after the game, per NBA guidelines set in place earlier in the week — prompting Thunder center Steven Adams to take questions in the same room, from the same chair his coach had sat in a few minutes earlier.
For the first time all season, the media meal was served by actual servers. Many arena workers, not just in food service, were wearing gloves.
A statement from the Jazz Wednesday night read as follows:
“This morning a player … tested negative for influenza, strep throat and an upper respiratory infection. The symptom’s diminished over the course of today, however, in a precautionary measure, and in consultation and cooperaton with the NBA, medical staff and Oklahoma health officials, the decision was made to test for COVID-19.
“A preliminary positive result came back right before tip-off of the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City game … We are working closely with the CDC, Oklahoma and Utah state officials and the NBA to determine how to best move forward as we gather more information. The individuals is currently in the care of health officials in Oklahoma City.”
It is not believed Gobert spent any time in the arena on Wednesday.
The Jazz played Monday at home, Saturday at Detroit, Friday in Boston and last Wednesday in New York.
Oklahoma City’s game was one of two that did not go off Wednesday night. Schedule to tip around 9:30 p.m., New Orleans’ game at Sacramento was also postponed.
NBA games took place in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Dallas Wednesday.
Professional sports leagues have been interrupted and even shut down before, yet typically as a matter of labor unrest rather than health concerns.
Major League Baseball has endured eight strikes or lockouts since 1972, canceling the World Series, in 1995.
The entire 2004-05 NHL season was canceled when players were locked out by owners willing to sacrifice the season to get a salary cap.
The NBA, and perhaps other league’s and professional tours to come, appear to be entering uncharted waters.
Every single Thunder game played at home this season has claimed the same official attendance of 18,203. Of the Thunder’s 64 games to date, 31 have been at home, putting Wednesday’s scheduled contest and 10 more at risk.
According to data provided the Thunder by Oklahoma City officials, quoted in a 2018 story by then-Oklahoman sportswriter Brett Dawson, each Thunder home game provides $1.5 million in economic impact.
That’s more than $16 million in commerce now at risk as the NBA shudders it doors, at least for the time being.