The NBA has suspended its 2019-20 season until further notice, following the news Wednesday that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
Earlier on Wednesday, Gobert had been listed as “out” for the Jazz’s road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. According to ESPN’s Royce Young, he was tested for COVID-19 before tipoff.
Tipoff never happened. As players were preparing to begin the game, a member of the Thunder medical staff stepped onto the floor and began a conversation with the three referees. Chris Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, reportedly asked, “What’s wrong with Rudy?” to the Jazz bench. Players then retreated to the locker room, where coaches and referees also followed.
The situation became surreal as broadcast and in-arena entertainment continued, with the Thunder mascot throwing T-shirts at the crowd and shooting half-court shots with his back turned to the basket. At one point, a team of young cheerleaders was brought out to perform, only to be followed by a Frankie J performance, which was supposed to be the halftime show.
Breaking: The Thunder-Jazz game has been postponed to a later date, per the NBA. pic.twitter.com/4z8liN5Kra— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 12, 2020
About 30 minutes after the start of the game was paused, it was officially postponed. “You are all safe,” the PA announcer said as he asked fans to leave. Once fans had exited the arena, a group of attendants wiped down both team benches and players were being held in the locker room for what was later reported to be fever testing. Soon, the news of Gobert’s positive test became public and the league quickly followed it up by suspending the season and releasing a statement.
The NBA has suspended the season in the wake of the Coronavirus Crisis. Its official statement: pic.twitter.com/x3X6pddmSq— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) March 12, 2020
Later on Wednesday, the Jazz released their own statement.
The Jazz just released this statement: pic.twitter.com/RkHPAPlX0P— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) March 12, 2020
The suspension of the season comes after escalating reports throughout Wednesday amid the coronavirus outbreak that the NBA was considering playing games without fans due to the growing concern that large-scale events could spread the virus. In San Francisco, the Golden State Warriors had already decided to play their Thursday-night game against the Nets without any fans, in accordance with a citywide ban on large public gatherings, and the league seemed to be trending toward that same reality.
Now, there are more problems than fan safety to deal with. The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported that not only will the entire Thunder team be tested for COVID-19, but the teams the Jazz played recently likely will too. Two days ago in a media availability session, Gobert jokingly touched microphones and recorders belonging to reporters, who had been asked by the league to stay 6 to 8 feet away from players during interviews. The policy, along with keeping only “essential personnel” inside locker rooms, was one of the first the league instituted as the threat of the virus grew in the United States.
ESPN’s broadcast of Mavericks-Nuggets made a point of showing bottles of hand sanitizer being handed out before the game. Meanwhile, most of Wednesday’s games continued as planned, though Pelicans-Kings, the only game that hadn’t started when the NBA made its announcement, was canceled before tipoff. It’s unknown when the next NBA game will take place.
This piece was updated on Wednesday night.