© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

NBA Suspends Season After Player Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Employees clean the seating area after game between Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons at Wells Fargo Center.

Updated at 1:28 a.m. CST Thursday

The NBA has suspended its season after a player on the Utah Jazz preliminarily tested positive for the coronavirus. In a statement, the NBA said the test result came just before the tip-off of Wednesday's game between the Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The league says the player was not in the arena and the game was then canceled.

The Utah Jazz says the player (identified by multiple media outlets as Rudy Gobert) tested negative for the flu, 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."

The NBA suspended all play at the conclusion of the game between the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was at the game and visibly shocked when he learned the news.

Speaking with ESPN, Cuban said when he learned that the season was being called off, he thought, "This is crazy. This can't be true."

"I mean, it's not within the realm of possibilities. This seems more like out of [a] movie than reality," he told the network.

"It's really not about basketball or money," he said. "[If] this thing is just exploding to the point where all of a sudden players and others have had it, you think about your family," he said, adding, "Now, it's just more personal."

Mavericks fan Jason Kilgore told member station KERA in Dallas that he's disappointed. "I think it's a sad, sad day in the NBA. You know, we've been here for the last five hours – I hadn't seen anybody with coronavirus," he said.

But another fan, Vincent Domenech, echoed Cuban's sentiment: "Step up your life skills because you gotta prepare for whatever. Basketball's honestly not even really in the picture. I mean, let's be real."

Another game, between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings, was also postponed just before tip-off. Some fans booed as it was announced.

"Definitely everybody was ready to see the second game,” said Matt Uribe, General Manager of The Friendly Spot Ice House in San Antonio, a popular outdoor outlet for Spurs games. “So, it’s definitely on the less than ideal side for a lot of people. Kind of blown away. Some people were like ‘oh, I get it’ and half were like, ‘what are they doing?’"

For Spurs fans, this comes as a reprieve from a bruising season in which the team had been in 12th place in the Western Conference, flirting with not making the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

"If we were in 8th and not 12th, then that would have been fantastic if we suspended the season and we just walk right into the playoffs." Uribe said.

The league says it will use the hiatus to determine "next steps" for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.

The news comes the same day as the NCAA announced an unprecedented move to bar college basketball fans from attending the upcoming men's and women's Division I tournaments. "This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes," said NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Sports leagues are under increasing pressure to ban spectators or cancel games altogether. Health experts say one way coronavirus moves is from person to person and particularly when people are close together for extended periods of time. This "community spreading" has ratcheted up the number of cases in the U.S.

As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive