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Just one positive test for coronavirus left the NBA with no choice but to suspend season

Oklahoma City playerws leave the court after Wednesday's game against the Jazz was canceled. A short time later, the NBA announced the season was suspended.Bryan Terry/Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — The NBA had no choice but to suspend its season Wednesday night after Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19, the worst-case scenario for a league that was fighting to keep its schedule normal despite the virus scares.

In a surreal scene, the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder players were about to take the floor for their game at Chesapeake Energy Arena before a Jazz trainer sprinted to the floor and informed officials that Gobert and guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who were experiencing flu-like symptoms, could have contracted coronavirus.

When the NBA learned Gobert was a preliminary positive, the season was suspended. The Celtics played the Jazz twice in the past two weeks, including last Friday at TD Garden. The Thunder and Jazz players were quarantined at the arena and were all expected to be tested in the next several hours.

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Rudy Gobert played a central role in the recent Celtics-Jazz contest.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The NBA deliberated all day about a game plan for contending with Covid-19 and had decided that continuing the season by playing games without fans was the best and most prudent method. Gobert’s potential positive test changed everything for the NBA and may do so for all sports.

This has all the makings of a Stephen King movie, with the plot getting more bleak and improbable by the minute. Just a few hours after the Jazz-Thunder was postponed, the Pelicans-Kings game was also canceled because one of the game officials, Courtney Kirkland, worked the Raptors-Jazz game on Monday night and could have had contact with Gobert.

Sports is usually a respite from real life but this has become a sad intersection. Players are scared as well as those who work for teams, cover the league, work at arenas, and the fans.

The Golden State Warriors began the process of prioritizing health over sports earlier Wednesday by announcing they would play Thursday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets at Chase Center without fans. The league was fully prepared to take that next step for all teams.

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A preliminary positive result came back right before tip-off of the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City game. Subsequently, the decision was correctly made by the NBA to postpone the game. When it was determined that the individual would be tested, we immediately informed the league office. The health and safety of our players, our organization, those throughout our league, and all those potentially impacted by this situation are paramount in our discussions.

So now what happens? The league will encourage every player to get tested, hoping Gobert is the lone positive. Also, the NBA will try to determine how Gobert contracted the virus. And that will be difficult considering how much NBA players travel.

The Jazz released a statement following the game that said Gobert tested negative for the flu and strep throat and had planned to play Wednesday.

“A preliminary positive result came back right before tip-off of the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City game. Subsequently, the decision was correctly made by the NBA to postpone the game. When it was determined that the individual would be tested, we immediately informed the league office. The health and safety of our players, our organization, those throughout our league, and all those potentially impacted by this situation are paramount in our discussions.”

The concerning part is there is no blueprint for what NBA teams should do. Like the rest of us, NBA players get the sniffles and may cough every now and then. Should they call their teams if they get a light headache or a runny nose? The answer at this point is probably yes. Take no chances. Make sure you’re healthy.

So the NBA will take a collective deep breath, determine who is healthy, who may need treatment, and hopefully resume the season soon. The worst-case scenario may be to end the regular season and begin the playoffs with the teams that are currently in playoff position and just move forward and try to make the best of what has been a nightmarish season.

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But the first step is to ensure safety. The Celtics, according to a team source, had not been informed of their travel plans as they were in their Milwaukee hotel Wednesday watching the developments like all of us. And since the Celtics played Utah twice in the past two weeks, players may have to have mandatory tests.

At this point, there is uncertainty and fear. How many players have contracted the virus? A Utah Jazz reporter tweeted that he’s on his way to get tested. There appeared to be a belief by some that the coronavirus would only infect those who had traveled overseas or spent time in Italy or China. But now we see how truly contagious this may be and how this could affect hundreds or thousands of people that are involved in the NBA.

Fans leave the Golden 1 Center after Wednesday's Kings-Pelicans game was canceled.Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Now we understand more why the Ivy League canceled its conference tournament or why other conferences are going to continue to play but with no fans in the arena. This is the reality we face now.

The NBA and the rest of the sports world has to deal with this pandemic like the rest of us. The best thing we can do now is take all precautiouns to stay healthy, take this virus seriously, and hope they we can get back to normalcy.

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Because nothing is normal right now.


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.