League game play halted 'until further notice' beginning Thursday, March 12
Thursday 12 March 2020 12:16, UK
The NBA has suspended the 2019-20 season Wednesday until further notice due to coronavirus.
After a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the virus shortly before their match with Oklahoma City, the governing body took the decision to suspend all fixtures after Wednesday night's matches were completed.
The Jazz-Thunder game was delayed before tip-off and postponed soon thereafter and Wednesday's game between Sacramento and New Orleans, scheduled later than the others, was subsequently cancelled as well.
"The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic," the league announced.
"A player on the Utah Jazz preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19. The test result was reported shortly prior to the tip-off," according to the news release.
"At that time, tonight's game was cancelled. The affected player was not in the arena."
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Earlier Wednesday, the NBA Board of Governors had met via teleconference to discuss the virus, the safety of those involved and proposed scenarios for dealing with the health threat, from staging regular-season games without spectators in the arenas to shutting down temporarily.
The league announced in the afternoon that Golden State's home game against Brooklyn on Thursday night, would be played behind closed doors at the Chase Center in San Francisco. But the events that scuttled the Jazz-Thunder game, and the ripple effects, prompted the league to invoke the hiatus.
Multiple reports cited Utah center Rudy Gobert as the infected player, although the league did not mention him by name. Denver coach Michael Malone also mentioned Gobert in his postgame news conference in Dallas.
The Jazz issued a statement that read in part: "This morning a player on the Utah Jazz tested negative for influenza, strep throat and an upper respiratory infection. The individual's symptoms diminished over the course of today. However, in a precautionary measure and in consultation and cooperation with 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."
The Jazz said the team is working with the Center for Disease Control [CDC], the league and officials in Oklahoma and Utah. The Utah player was receiving care in Oklahoma City.
Rapidly escalating questions and fears about COVID-19 - and how the NBA could best protect its participants and fans - led on Monday to a joint-decision with other major sports leagues to close locker rooms to the media. Interviews with players and coaches were conducted in press conference-like set-ups elsewhere in the arenas, and reporters were required to stay 6-8ft away from those interviewed.
Gobert had poked fun at the policy on Monday after the Jazz's morning shootaround, touching all the microphones and recorders placed on the table in front of him.
Teams also had advised employees, as with most of the general public, to wash hands frequently, to avoid handshakes and fistbumps and to refrain from touching one's face.
But the decision to suspend the season has taken this to an entirely new and unprecedented level.
"It's really not about basketball or money," Dallas owner Mark Cuban said in an ESPN interview, courtside while his Mavericks played host to the Nuggets. "This thing is just exploding to the point where all of a sudden, players and owners alike, you think about your family. You want to really make sure you're doing this the right way. Because now it's much more personal.
"You see what's happened in other countries, with just the whole idea that it's come this close and potentially a couple players have it. 'Stunning' isn't the right word. I mean, it's crazy."
In the Board of Governors discussion, various scenarios and implications reportedly were addressed. Including the financial hit of lost attendance, the effect on players' salaries if competing in empty buildings versus not playing all and the impact on hundreds of other business relationships NBA teams have with vendors and workers in staging their games.
Health concerns and some unsettled details shoved that all to the side on Wednesday night. The Jazz players were essentially quarantined at Chesapeake Energy Arena after they left the court moments before the cancellation was announced. Teams that had faced Utah recently reportedly were encouraged to self-quarantine.
The NBA had lost regular-season games in the past to labour lockouts. The 1998-99 season did not start until February 1999 with a 50-game schedule and the 2011-12 season consisted of 66 games that began on Christmas, both delayed by protracted collective bargaining negotiations.
Suspending a season in progress - with five weeks remaining in the 82-game schedule and playoffs set to begin April 18 - is entirely new. With no resumption date in sight for now.
Cuban said this was not going to be like a lockout, which players waiting out the delay however and wherever they chose. "Talking to some of the guys not playing on the bench," Cuban said, "it was like, 'Look, I don't think you guys are going to be able to leave town. The whole idea is, the only way we can have any control over it and makes sure players are healthy is that we know where they're at and who they're dealing with."
Initial reports were that teams would be permitted to practice and maintain their game readiness. But the reach of the virus and procedures for dealing with it have been moving targets, with new information altering decisions made hours or days earlier.
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The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), in the midst of its conference tournaments and on the brink of its wildly popular 'March Madness' national tournament, decided on Wednesday to play games without audiences. Many colleges and universities from which those teams are drawn were sending students out of dorms and off campus to continue studies online.
The 2019-2020 season has been a difficult one for the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver, starting with the China/social media controversy of the preseason to the deaths in January of long-time commissioner David Stern and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant to this.