NBA

The Crazy First Hours After NBA Announces Suspension

Unprecedented. Surreal. Uncharted territory. All words trying to describe the indescribable. ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and his guests understandably struggled as they attempted to describe how events regarding the coronavirus unfolded at breakneck speed in various NBA arenas across the country. Here’s a breakdown. 

NBA announces suspension in middle of games

Sports fans watching NBA games Wednesday night were stunned when television broadcast announcers paused during the action and relayed communications from the NBA that the league had suspended the season due to Utah’s Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus. 

Each broadcast crew specifically focused on getting out the basic facts regarding the suspension and how the hiatus would allow the NBA to figure out its course moving forward.

In the waning moments of the Dallas Mavericks-Denver Nuggets matchup, announcers Doris Burke and Ryan Ruocco approached the rapidly-evolving situation with an understandably somber tone encouraging viewers to “take care of one another” and reminding them “we’re all in this together.”

The game that never happened

In Sacramento, the New Orleans Pelicans-Sacramento Kings game was supposed to be the final game before the league suspension officially started. It never happened. 

Fans knew something was off during the pregame routine as the players for the Kings took the floor for pregame warmups while the Pelicans players
and coaching staff were nowhere to be found. They remained out of sight in the locker room.

Another less obvious person missing from the court during that time was one of the three officials assigned to the game, Courtney Kirkland. Kirkland remained confined to the locker room as a precautionary measure because he had officiated a Jazz game just two days earlier on Monday.

About 20 minutes before tipoff there was a flurry of activity on the court. Different officials walking briskly on to the court conferring with the two officials standing near the scorer’s table. Fans already knew the league had suspended games because of social media, but had no idea that moments later the game would be called off due to concerns from both teams about Kirkland.

Around 9:30 p.m., the public address announcer informed the crowd the game had been postponed. It was received with a chorus of boos.

Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City Thunder at ground zero

After the cancellation of the Pelicans-Kings game, Van Pelt opened a conversation with ESPN Thunder reporter Royce Young. Young indicated that the Thunder players and staff had gone home, but the Jazz team remained in the locker room.

“There’s a large group that just showed up in the hallway and they closed the curtain off and they didn’t want anybody to go back there,” Young described. “It’s pretty obvious that group of people is here to test the Utah Jazz because they’ve all been exposed to Rudy Gobert. They’ve been on the airplane with him. They’ve been in locker rooms with him. They’ve been in the hotel with him.”

Adrian Wojnarowski echoed Young’s report indicating that the players must go through a specific process as directed by medical officials before they would be allowed to leave the arena. 

After multiple press conferences featuring different NBA coaches and players, ESPN’s John Anderson took over the anchor duties and returned to a conversation with Young back in Oklahoma for a sobering description of what was happening behind the scenes.

The Jazz are sitting in the locker room, lined up in a circle. They all have masks over their faces and they’re going to be tested by Oklahoma health officials for the virus. The test involves opening their mouths, sticking their tongue out, having the inside of their cheek swabbed almost to the point of where they will gag, for 10 seconds.

ESPN reporter Royce Young

Young said the Thunder players did not have the swab tests administered to them. Instead, they were all lined up and had fever tests where medical officials checked for fevers on their cheeks. Officials instructed the players to monitor themselves at home.

Rudy Gobert
Rudy Gobert | Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Anderson then asked the obvious question of Young. “What about people who may have had ancillary contact with these players like fans, even yourself. What are you supposed to do?”

“We’ve been advised to basically observe ourselves. There’s been some thinking that it might be wise to self-quarantine for the next 24 hours. Basically to just pay attention. If you start having a rising fever, it would be wise to go get tested.”

The night concluded when the Jazz departed Chesapeake Energy Arena around 1 a.m. headed for a hotel.

Unprecedented indeed.