On March 11, 2020, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. Gobert’s test results came in seconds before the Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder were set to tip-off their game. The positive results for Gobert resulted in the game in Oklahoma City being postponed.
As news broke of Gobert’s virus it became clear that this was the first domino that needed to fall. For a few days the league had talked about playing games without fans. But as the first case of an athlete testing positive for the virus came to light the NBA took the extortionary measure to completely suspended the 2019-20 season.
There were several games that had already been played on that Wednesday night, with one game airing nationally on ESPN, and one that was waiting to be played. As the ESPN announcers broke the news to a stunned sports world it became more and more evident that something big had just occurred.
As the Mavericks-Nuggets game that was airing on ESPN winded down, basketball fans knew that this was the last of the sport they love that they were going to see for a while. This became more evident as the Kings-Pelicans game which was to air immediately after looked more and more likely that it was not going to get played. Than came the news that one of the officials for that game, Courtney Kirkland, had officiated the Jazz a few nights prior. The Kings-Pelicans game was cancelled and our beloved sport went into hiatus.
The following day it was revealed that teammate Donovan Mitchell had tested positive for the virus as well, and on March 14th Pistons center Christian Wood also tested positive for coronavirus. Wood had played against Gobert and the Jazz just a week prior.
The NBA has been lucky in that it has never had to cancel its post-season. The NHL had to cancel the Stanley Cup in 1919 due to the Spanish Flu pandemic that hit the world following World War I. The NHL also cancelled the 2005 season due to a players strike, the MLB also had to cancel the 1994 post-season due to a players strike. The NFL has never had to cancel a season or its post-season.
The NBA began in 1946 and has played through several tumultuous times. The league kept on going through the civil unrest of the 1960s, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Vietnam war, the Gulf War, 9/11, two lockouts, hurricanes, earthquakes and a dozen other things. Never has the league suspended its entire operation during the middle of the season.
The closest the league has ever come to what we seen on Wednesday night is the two lockouts. In 1999 the NBA season was cut short by 32 games, and in 2012 it was cut short by 16. But both those seasons the issue occurred during the beginning of the season and not in the middle of the season.
In 2013 the NBA did cancel a game at the end of the season between the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. The game, which was supposed to be played on April 16, 2013, in Boston, was called off due to the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred earlier that day and killed 3 people and injured 265 others. Due to the game being the last game of the season and both the Pacers and Celtics being locked into their playoff positions the league cancelled the game.
Until 2020, that game in 2013 was the only regular-season NBA game that was totally and absolutely cancelled. The NBA did cancel 5 pre-season games scheduled for October of 2001 in Germany and Japan due to the September 11th attacks. The NBA also cancelled a preseason game between the Utah Jazz and CSK Moscow due to the Breslin School massacre.
It is to be seen if the NBA reschedules the games that are being missed, but in most likelihood, the league will not. The league has postponed several games in the past.
The first time the NBA ever postponed games was November 11, 1963, when the league postponed 3 games following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 5 years later the league would postpone more games following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The NBA would go nearly 20 years before having to postpone any other games. In 1989 the NBA postponed a Heat vs Suns games due to the Miami race riots. Riots again first the NBA to postpone two Los Angeles area playoff games in the 1992 season. The Clippers and Jazz game was postponed a week, and the Blazers-Lakers game was postponed and relocated to Las Vegas, following the Rodney King riots. The NBA wanted to move the Jazz-Clippers game to San Diego or Salt Lake City, but Clippers owner Donald Sterling refused.
In 1998 the league postponed a November game between San Antonio at Utah due to the roof leaking from a tornado that hit the arena in August of that year. The league also postponed a Denver Nuggets vs Portland Trailblazers game in 1999 due to the Columbine School Massacre.
The league also did cancel the last 45 seconds of a game between Detroit and Indiana after Ron Artest attacked fans in the stands in what became known as the Malice at the Palace.
The last postponement of a game that NBA did was in February of 2020 following the death of Kobe Bryant. The NBA and Lakers postponed a game against the Clippers until April 9, 2020, but that game looks to be one of the many that will now have been canceled.
We sometimes forget that sports exist in a bigger world and sometimes that bigger world comes crashing into the sports world. The global pandemic of the coronavirus is just the latest in a long line of real world events that affect sports.
Some fans have blamed Jazz center Rudy Gobert for the cancelling of the games, but in all reality, Gobert is a victim in this too. He never intended to catch the virus and spread it to Donovan Mitchell or anyone else, and with the nature of this virus it is unsure if Gobert is the reason Mitchell tested positive for the virus. Mitchell could have given it to Gobert, or both could have gotten it from someone else, or both gotten it independently of each other. But to blame anyone for this is just wrong and short-sighted. Yes, we all miss basketball, but it will be back and this will be but another interesting historical topic to discuss.