Inside the week that has left the NBA and NHL shut down
It has been just one week.
That’s all. Just one full week since Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, just one full week before the NBA became the first of the North American pro sports leagues to suspend operations, one week since sports essentially stopped.
The NHL quickly followed the NBA’s lead and suspended play. Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball shuttered as well. Golf lasted a day before deciding it couldn’t still play, and auto racing screeched to a halt before the weekend. The NCAA basketball tournaments were called off and college sports for the entirety of the academic year soon followed.
The situation, when it comes to the pro sports at least, is different for the NBA and NHL. The playoffs were looming, roughly a month or so away. They’re on hold now, just like virtually everything else in the world, and the only opponent for the best basketball and hockey teams on the planet is an invisible foe called COVID-19 — the coronavirus, a pandemic that has stopped the world on its axis.
“I’ve washed my hands so much,” Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. “I’m not a big lotion guy, but my hands are getting dry, my knuckles are kind of bleeding. I think we’re all walking into this unknown. ... It’s not something we’ve ever experienced. It’s not something we ever expected to experience.”
Yet here everyone is, entering a new reality.
There are seven NBA players — four of them identified — known to have the virus. A member of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators has it as well. The NBA, according to a person with knowledge of the plan, knew it would have to shut down as soon as someone tested positive and hoped originally that it would only be for two weeks.
Forget two weeks now. At this point, two months seems overly optimistic of a timetable.
“We just don’t know,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last week. He offered a similar sentiment Wednesday night in an interview with ESPN.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his staff were keeping track of the situation on a moment-by-moment basis while different contingency plans were being worked out. Bettman told the Board of Governors that once a player tested positive, all bets were off. The NBA had sent similar indicators.
THE GOBERT DOMINO
Connecting the dots is impossible, simply because it’s unlikely to ascertain when or how Gobert or any other infected player got the virus.
The Jazz played at the New York Knicks on March 4. The Washington Capitals played at the New York Rangers — using the same locker room that the Jazz did — the next night. The Detroit Pistons visited the Knicks on March 8, using that same locker room again; the Pistons’ Christian Wood tested positive about a week later. And the Tampa Bay Lightning went on the road to face the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings, both times following the Jazz.
“The Lightning followed the Utah Jazz into arenas in Boston and Detroit this past weekend, moving into a locker room in Boston that had been occupied by the Jazz,” the Lightning said. “We know that in both arenas, deep cleaning and sanitization took place in our locker rooms prior to our arrival. We also understand that with no actual contact with an infected person, our risk levels are low.”
A week ago, most probably thought the risks seemed low.
Now, everyone is just guessing. And it only took a week for everything to change.
“We’re flying by the seat of our pants here,” Kaminsky said. “And I feel like everyone is.”
MORE NHL AND NBA TESTS
When Gobert tested positive just before a game the night of March 11, it sent shockwaves around sports. NHL games were ongoing, but Bettman and others sprung into action.
“It was clear to me that no matter what scenario we came up with that we continued to play with, either with or without fans, it was inconceivable, certainly unlikely, that we were going to get through the rest of the regular season at minimum without somebody testing positive,” Bettman said.
NHL teams had scares. The Tampa Bay Lightning followed the Utah Jazz into the same arena in two cities, including the same locker room in Boston. The Carolina Hurricanes followed the Jazz into a Detroit hotel, and broadcaster John Forslund went into self-isolation after being informed the person who used his room before him tested positive.
It took almost a week after the NHL season was suspended for the first player to test positive. The Senators announced late Tuesday night that an unnamed player had COVID-19 and that other team employees were instructed to self-isolate and monitor their health.
“The player has had mild symptoms and is in isolation,” the team said. “The Ottawa Senators are in the process of notifying anyone who has had known close contact with the athlete and are working with our team doctors and public health officials.”
The Senators said Wednesday other players were being tested under supervision of medical officials. The NHL is not mandating testing unless someone shows symptoms, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.
NBA teams were worried as well. The Toronto Raptors were tested; their entire travel party had tests come back negative. The Los Angeles Lakers, a second person with knowledge of the matter, were in the process of getting players and staff tested this week because the Nets — who said they obtained private testing — had four players test positive. The Lakers played the Nets on March 10.
Yet even a week ago, very few saw this — a global shutdown — coming.
“It’s funny. We had one guy in our entire organization that was taking it extremely serious,” Phoenix center Frank Kaminsky said in his “Pros and Joes” podcast that was released Wednesday. “He was warning everybody. Everyone would crack jokes at him. ... Like, you just think, ‘Oh, that’s in China. That’s not going to get here.’ And then the next thing you know, there’s reports that it’s getting worse and worse.
“And then Rudy Gobert tests positive,” Kaminsky continued. “And then your season is pretty much over, or in a hiatus as they’re calling it.”
It very well may be over. Basketball and hockey both say they plan to continue, but the reality is nobody can say anything with any real level of certainty.