The NBA on Wednesday night suspended the season indefinitely after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, a virtually unprecedented move during unprecedented times.
In suspending the season until further notice, the NBA became the first US sports league to halt its season since the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The move comes as other sports are weighing their options amid the outbreak.
A person with knowledge of the situation said the Jazz player who tested positive was Gobert. The person spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the league nor the team confirmed the presumptive positive test.
“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice,” the league said in a statement sent shortly after 9:30 p.m. EDT. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Jazz played the Celtics at the TD Garden Friday night. The Jazz practiced at the Emerson College gym last week before the game, according to Emerson president Lee Pelton. Pelton said he believed the risk to the community was low.
Gobert’s diagnosis could have ripple effects among the Celtics that go beyond the fact that the team’s season will be, at the very least, shortened.
A Celtics spokesman said late Wednesday night that the team was discussing the next steps in protocol with league officials, but no decisions had been immediately made about how to proceed.
The Celtics are in Milwaukee for Thursday night’s showdown against the Bucks, but that game will no longer be played. According to a league source, as of late Wednesday night the Celtics were scheduled to fly home to Boston at 11 a.m. on Thursday.
Since facing the Jazz, the Celtics played the Thunder at TD Garden on Sunday and the Pacers in Indianapolis on Tuesday. As of Tuesday night, no Boston players were believed to be experiencing any symptoms of illness.
The entire team was available for Tuesday’s game in Indiana, aside from forward Jaylen Brown, who sat out because of a hamstring strain.
ESPN reported earlier on Wednesday that during a board of governors conference call with league officials, the consensus among owners was that the league should play games without fans in attendance. Earlier, the Warriors announced that they would not allow fans at their home game against the Nets on Thursday.
But then things changed swiftly. Moments before the Jazz were set to play the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, both teams were cleared from the floor. Soon after, it was announced that the game had been postponed, and shortly after that the NBA said it was suspending operations.
The Celtics remained in Milwaukee late Wednesday night, and it was not immediately clear when they would return to Boston, or what protocols would be followed when they did.
Earlier this month, the team had medical personnel speak to the players about the risks associated with the coronavirus and the preventive measures that can be taken to help to avoid infection.
On Tuesday morning, the team started abiding by new NBA regulations that limited players’ contact with media members before and after games. Locker rooms were closed to nonessential personnel, and interview sessions were held in rooms in which reporters were told to stay at least 6 feet away from the players.
“I guess it’s just getting real serious,” point guard Kemba Walker said then. “I don’t know. It’s crazy. I don’t know what to say about it, to tell you the truth.”
The Celtics are currently 43-21 and in third place in the Eastern Conference standings, with 18 games left in the regular season. But the only thing that is certain right now is that there is uncertainty.
It is all but guaranteed that games will be postponed for at least 14 days as the league reassesses the outbreak and monitors the health of its players. There is a chance that after the hiatus — however long it might be — the NBA would simply begin the playoffs. It could also be possible that the NBA attempts to resume play as scheduled at some point, but in addition to the calendar working against that approach, there would be numerous logistical hurdles to clear relating to venue availability. It is also possible that the season will be canceled altogether.
Just hours before the NBA announcement, the NCAA announced that only family and essential personnel would attend the “March Madness” basketball tournament, which begins next week.
So far, the NHL has not made any declarations about even holding games without fans in the stands. The Columbus Blue Jackets became the first team to announce that, beginning with their game Thursday night against Pittsburgh. The San Jose Sharks said they would hold their three home games in March in an empty arena.
The NHL says it expects to provide an update Thursday.
Earlier Wednesday, 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 Representative 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.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach. Globe correspondent Stephanie Purifoy contributed. Material from the Associated Press and The Washington Post was used in this report.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.