The NBA has suspended its season “until further notice" after a Utah Jazz player tested positive Wednesday for the coronavirus, a move that came only hours after the majority of the league’s owners were leaning toward playing games without fans in arenas.
The NBA becomes the first US sports league to halt its season since the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Now there will be no games at all, at least for the time being. A person with knowledge of the situation said the Jazz player who tested positive was center Rudy 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 Jazz played the Celtics at the Garden Friday night.
“The NBA announced that a player on the Utah Jazz has preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19. The test result was reported shortly prior to the tip-off of tonight’s game between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. At that time, tonight’s game was canceled. The affected player was not in the arena,” the statement said.
“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice. The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”
According to reports, both the Jazz and Thunder were still quarantined in the arena following the announcement. Gobert and the Jazz were in Boston last week for a game against the Celtics.
The NBA announcement came hours after the NCAA announced that only family and essential personnel would attend the “March Madness” tournament games that begin next week around the country.
It was a strange scene Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
While fans were curious about what was going on, the Thunder mascot and dance team tried to keep the fans distracted from the delay. But 35 minutes after the scheduled start, the announcement came that the game would be called off.
The NBA said the coronoavirus test result was reported shortly before the scheduled tip-off time. 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.’’
Those circumstances were the league’s worst-case scenario for now — a player testing positive. A second person who spoke on condition of anonymity said the league expects the shutdown to last a minimum of two weeks but cautioned that timeframe is fluid.
“It’s a very serious time right now,’’ Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think the league moved appropriately and prudently, and we’ll all just have to monitor the situation and see where it goes from here.’’
Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego, speaking before his team’s game at Miami, said, “These are scary times.”
Rapidly evolving times, as well. Around 7 p.m., a person with knowledge of the situation said that owners — who met by teleconference Wednesday — were largely in support of a plan to play games in empty arenas on a short-term basis.
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.
Earlier in the day, it became clear that several sports leagues were considering holding games in empty arenas. 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.
“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.”
Material from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.
Christopher Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.