MIAMI — The NBA has suspended its season “until further notice” after a Utah Jazz player tested positive Wednesday for the coronavirus, a move that came only hours after the majority of the league’s owners were leaning toward playing games without fans in arenas.
Now there will be no games at all, at least for the time being. A person with knowledge of the situation said the Jazz player who tested positive was center Rudy Gobert. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the league nor the team confirmed the presumptive positive test.
“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice,” the league said in a statement sent shortly after 9:30 p.m. Eastern. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The test result, the NBA said, was reported shortly before the scheduled tip-off time for the Utah at Oklahoma City game on Wednesday night was called off. Players were on the floor for warmups and tip-off was moments away when they were told to return to their locker rooms. About 30 minutes later, fans were told the game was postponed “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
Those circumstances were the league’s worst-case scenario for now — a player testing positive. A second person who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity said the league expects the shutdown to last a minimum of two weeks, but cautioned that timeframe is very fluid.
The NCAA already closed its championship tournaments to the public, and the rest of the ACC Tournament will be played in a mostly empty Greensboro Coliseum starting Thursday. The NHL has not yet decided to pause its season, saying it was consulting “with medical experts and is evaluating the options,” and that there would be an update Thursday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, which declared a pandemic on Wednesday, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
It has been a worldwide issue for several weeks. And now, it has hit the NBA.
Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego, speaking before his team played at Miami on Wednesday — where news of the shutdown broke during the fourth quarter — said “these are scary times.”
The NBA’s movement toward empty arenas in the short term came on the same day that the NCAA announced that the men’s and women’s Division I tournaments would be played without fans — except for a few family members — permitted inside to watch.
“People are clearly taking the measures that they feel they need to take for safety,” said Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson, who played in both the Division I and Division III national championship games during his college days at Michigan and Williams.
“There’s people a lot higher up than ourselves in this locker room who have the information and the knowledge to make those types of decisions,” Robinson said. “In terms of if that were to happen here … we love playing in front of our fans and we feel like that gives us an advantage. But at the same time the NBA has to protect its players in the league and the fans.”
Things have clearly been trending toward empty arenas for some time, and it was abundantly clear Wednesday morning when the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told a Congressional committee that he would recommend the NBA not allow fans at games in response to the coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci was responding to a question asked by Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican, “is the NBA underreacting or is the Ivy League overreacting?” Grothman was referencing how the Ivy League recently canceled its basketball tournaments, instead of having them without fans or keeping the status quo.
“We would recommend that there not be large crowds,” Fauci said. “If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it. But as a public health official, anything that has crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.”