MIAMI — The majority of NBA owners are leaning toward a proposal to temporarily play games without fans in the buildings in response to the global concerns surrounding the coronavirus, a person with direct knowledge of the talks said.
NBA owners met via teleconference Wednesday and have more talks scheduled Thursday with the intention of finalizing plans so an announcement can be made by the league, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no details had been made public.
The owners discussed an option to temporarily suspend play of all games, but the idea of playing without fans — and stressing that it would be for the short term — is what received the most support.
Thursday’s Brooklyn at Golden State game will be played without fans, but that will be because of local edict and not because of any league-wide mandate. It also wasn’t immediately clear how soon the NBA’s mandate, should it be approved as expected, would take hold. The belief was that it would occur very quickly.
Roughly two hours after the call among owners ended, the Utah at Oklahoma City game scheduled for Wednesday night was called off. Players were on the floor for warmups and tip-off was moments away when they were told to return to their locker rooms. About 30 minutes later, fans were told the game was postponed “due to unforeseen circumstances."
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, which declared a pandemic on Wednesday, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego said “these are scary times.”
“We love our fans and it’s just going to feel different,” Borrego said. “We’ll just have to navigate and figure it out as we go.”
Speaking earlier Wednesday, Milwaukee Bucks star and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said it’s tough for him to envision playing without fans in the building.
“It’s going to be hard. As an athlete, you play for the fans,” Antetokounmpo said. “At the end of the day, you’re out there to win games, but we’re out there to entertain them also. When you have the kind of momentum swing, you have a dunk and a three, and there’s silence, it takes a lot out of your energy, it doesn’t give you energy. It’s going to be hard … but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
The NBA’s movement toward empty arenas in the short term comes on the same day that the NCAA announced that the men’s and women’s Division 1 tournaments would be played without fans — except for a few family members — permitted inside to watch.
“People are clearly taking the measures that they feel they need to take for safety,” said Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson, who played in both the Division 1 and Division 3 national championship games during his college days at Michigan and Williams.
“There’s people a lot higher up than ourselves in this locker room who have the information and the knowledge to make those types of decisions,” Robinson said. “In terms of if that were to happen here … we love playing in front of our fans and we feel like that gives us an advantage. But at the same time the NBA has to protect its players in the league and the fans.”
Things have clearly been trending toward empty arenas for some time, and it was abundantly clear Wednesday morning when the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told a Congressional committee that he would recommend the NBA not allow fans at games in response to the coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci was responding to a question asked by Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican, “is the NBA underreacting or is the Ivy League overreacting?” Grothman was referencing how the Ivy League recently canceled its basketball tournaments, instead of having them without fans or keeping the status quo.
“We would recommend that there not be large crowds,” Fauci said. “If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it. But as a public health official, anything that has crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.”