SACRAMENTO -- The game that almost was.
The Kings were in the middle of warming up Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center. Fans had filled the building in anticipation of one of the most meaningful games in over a decade.
But in the NBA, it takes two to tango.
The visitors' side of the court remained empty as the clock approached the 7:30 tip-off time. Media lined the tunnel waiting for the visiting team, but the New Orleans Pelicans were nowhere to be found.
As the clock hit 7:32, Alvin Gentry appeared out of the New Orleans Pelicans locker room taking off his jacket. It was like a player coming out without his uniform on.
Moments later, public address announcer Scott Moak came through the loudspeaker, “Out of an abundance of caution and at the direction of the National Basketball Association, tonight’s game has been postponed.”
A packed house of fans already in their seats, many of whom had already hit the concession stands for food and beverage, let out a collective groan. And then the boos started.
The cancelation came as no surprise for anyone who was tracking the events of the day, but the reasoning behind the move adds another layer to the situation.
According to a league source, NBC Sports California learned that the Kings intended to play the game, but the Pelicans weren’t comfortable with referee Courtney Kirkland calling the game.
Kirkland was in Utah on Monday officiating the Jazz' game against the Toronto Raptors. Earlier Wednesday, it was announced that Jazz starting center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
The league had already announced that the season would be suspended following Wednesday’s action, but the game in Sacramento was confirmed as late as an hour before tipoff.
Like the fans, the Kings lingered for a few minutes in shock before finally leaving the court. New Orleans' Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram had come out on the floor to get some shots up, but were turned away by security and returned to the locker room before leaving the building.
It was a surreal situation for everyone involved. Fans loudly booed. Eventually, they started “Sac-ra-men-to!” chants. And then the building was quickly cleared out.
In a stroke of luck, Jim Lumbumbard, Senior Director, Basketball Communications, was in attendance and worked hand-in-hand with the Kings and Pelicans to work through the situation.
Once the building was cleared, the arena fell silent for what could be the first of many lonely nights.
The league has shut its doors for the foreseeable future. If and when the season returns, there are no promises that it will resume where it left off with the Kings in the midst of a postseason chase.
We have entered uncharted waters. The hiatus could last a few weeks or perhaps much longer. A few teams have already begun telling their players to self-quarantine for the next 14 days. That’s the baseline for a return of hoops, but it’s likely going to be much longer.
The Kings are in wait-and-see mode. They have no idea what the next step brings. In the words of one PR member, “I’m sure we’ll talk tomorrow.”