By M. Goncalves
Music playing, referees stretching, fans exited, players warming up, the Utah Jazz vs Oklahoma City Thunder was looking like any other game between two powerhouses in the Western conference, a nail biting, neck and neck, hard fought game. Fans settled down in their seats with their big buckets of buttery popcorn on their laps, sipping their fizzy drinks, they couldn’t wait to witness this battle between two elite teams. As the referees got prepared to officiate this intense matchup between two rivals, two men walked onto the floor. These men approached and gathered the games referees and let them know the devastating news. Two time defensive player of the year, first time all-star and Utah Jazz starting centre Rudy Gobert had been infected with the coronavirus. Pale, the referees stared at each other, listening intently, the referees immediately notified those overseeing what was displayed on the board in the arena to tell the fans that the game was postponed. The news was catastrophic to each and every fan.
Ninety minutes before the ball was up in the air, Gobert had tested positive for Covid-19 in a hospital in Oklahoma City after experiencing symptoms. This completely unprecedented situation caught league executives off guard and in urgent need of the guidance from the leagues commissioner, Adam Silver. One year after this shambolic event, Silver retells the story of how he found out, “I received a call from our general council at the NBA whose name is Rick Buchanan, and he says that a test result from Rudy Gobert came back COVID-19 positive.” Silver was having dinner with his wife when he received the call, and moments after muttering to his wife “You won’t believe what just happened.” Silver received another call, this time from Oklahoma City Thunder team owner Clay Bennet. Bennet had just heard about the news and asked Silver how to proceed. Eventually, a decision was made to postpone the game and send home 19,000 fans in attendance.
Although, Gobert didn’t even enter the Thunder’s arena he did have contact with his teammates and had gotten into a fight with Toronto Raptors Forward, OG Anunoby, only two days before his positive test. Anunoby and his teammates all tested negative but unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for Gobert’s teammates. Guards Donovan Mitchell and Emmanuel Mudiay tested positive for COVID-19. Mitchell and Mudiay’s positive test came after all players were kept inside the arena for hours whilst health officials took several tests in the locker room. The entire basketball world was in awe of this chaotic situation, yet Gobert’s problems went farther than that. One night before, in a press conference Gobert jokingly touched all microphones before leaving pretending to be infected. Unfortunately, his infection only came to his knowledge the next day and Mitchell and Mudiay used the same microphone, explaining their positive test. Gobert faced criticism across all social media platforms in addition to have to deal with what was reported in the following days, that Donovan Mitchell was irate with Gobert’s immaturity, and made fans question whether this was it for the star duo. All three players recovered and luckily for Jazz fans Mitchell and Gobert solved their issues and remained friends. After these tests, the NBA went into a hiatus and only resumed play in August of that year inside a bubble in Orlando.
The NBA has returned this season to being outside a bubble, however some teams have no fans while other have a very small amount, all according to the laws implemented by the state of where the game is played. It is still unclear when full attendance for games will be allowed, by the looks of it fans will have to embrace the unforgettable nostalgia of booing opponents at the free throw line, chanting “MVP” for the fan favorite, and off course biting your nails and frantically grabbing your head during the nerve wracking parts of the game, for a while longer. One year after this traumatic experience numerous players and executives narrate the evening of March 11th, 2020, a day that will forever live-in infamy of every NBA fan, player, and employee.