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A first-person account of traveling on the Celtics beat as the NBA shut down

Kemba Walker puts up a shot against the Pacers Tuesday.
Kemba Walker puts up a shot against the Pacers Tuesday.Andy Lyons/Getty

Last week, as the coronavirus really began to wreak havoc on the everyday heartbeat of our country, the Globe said that all nonessential travel by its employees would be suspended indefinitely. It was certainly a logical measure, one that just about every other company has imposed since then.

But I wasn’t sure where covering the Celtics fell in this troublesome subsection. It turned out that we still planned to cover the Celtics, although my editor reached out twice assuring me that I certainly did not need to if I were uneasy.

Sure, the petri dish of airplanes, Ubers, and hotels wasn’t as safe as a self-quarantine. But the virus had hardly even been detected in Indianapolis and Milwaukee — my two destinations — so it actually felt as though I was traveling to safe harbors. I told my editor I would go.

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Earlier in the month, as concern about the virus in the US was starting to spike, I was amazed as I strolled through airports that were still jam-packed with business travelers and families. People seemed more focused on the lines at Starbucks and the reliability of the airline Wi-Fi. There appeared to be no fear.

I couldn’t tell whether it was a sign of resilience or ignorance, but it did feel oddly reassuring.

Monday felt different. At Logan Airport, airline employees stood at the check-in desks with no one to check in. TSA agents sat at their stations with no IDs to scan. Everything was silent.

As I wound through the snaking security maze that was still set up for a big crowd, a woman trailing me shrieked.

“Don’t touch your face!”

I hadn’t touched my face. I knew I had just touched Uber doors and elevator buttons and my iPhone. I knew about the virus. I wasn’t going to touch my face.

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Then I turned and saw she was speaking to her young daughter. The terminal was quiet enough to hear two security agents standing near an exit discussing this new world. They looked to be about 60, and they were talking about the stock market.

“It’s lost 6,000 points,” one said. “Those pension plans are gone.”

“I guess the good news is I don’t have much to lose, anyway,” the other responded.

My flight to Indianapolis was about a third full. My entire row was empty except for me. I usually can’t sleep on planes, but I took a nap.

That day, the NBA had its first response to the coronavirus outbreak, announcing that journalists would no longer be allowed in locker rooms, and that during interviews elsewhere, the media should stay 6-8 feet away from players.

It seemed like an odd and hardly impactful step. Players would still be allowed to exchange sweat on the court, and thousands of fans would still be allowed to sit side-by-side, touching the same surfaces and buying food from the same vendors and all of that. Whatever.

That night, a friend in the Celtics public relations department and I went to the Horizon League tournament semifinals, which were being held in an old field house on the Indiana fairgrounds. The concern level for the virus there seemed low, if not nonexistent, probably because at that point Indianapolis had just one confirmed case, and that person had likely acquired it while traveling to, yes, Boston.

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The games rolled on. A concessions employee cracked open my beer can with her bare hands. During breaks, a bunch of children did a jump-rope act and a group of women sang a cappella. Everyone was unfazed.

The new media restrictions were in place before the Celtics game against the Pacers on Tuesday. After Celtics coach Brad Stevens completed his regular pregame media availability, it was time for him to sit down for his one-on-one with NBC Sports Boston commentator Brian Scalabrine.

There were some jokes and chuckles about staying at least 6 feet away from each other, but then it became clear after the smiles subsided that Stevens was not going to bend the rules, even for Scal, who sat with his long arm outstretched, holding a microphone for the duration of their chat.

There were empty seats at the game, but there are always empty seats in Indianapolis. The Celtics coughed up a 19-point lead but pulled out a win anyway, and afterward Stevens talked about how badly his team needed a moment like that to snap out of its funk. No one was thinking about the possibility that the NBA was going to shutter in less than 24 hours.

The Indianapolis airport was quiet Wednesday morning, and my flight to Milwaukee was less than half-full. With a smile, the gate agent stopped every passenger after the bar code on their boarding pass pinged and found them a seat in an open row if they did not have one already.

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“What, Milwaukee’s not a hot winter destination?” the man in front of me cracked.

The woman in front of him turned around and snarled a bit.

“No one is flying,” she said.

My cab driver from the Milwaukee airport looked to be in his early 60s. He said he was from India. He asked where I was from, and if I was in town for a conference. It sort of felt like he was screening me, and it made me a little reluctant to say I was from Boston, one of the growing coronavirus hot zones.

But I told him, and said I was there for the Bucks game, and then he just wanted to talk about the NBA. When I asked him if people were concerned about the virus in Milwaukee, he said he just did not know much about it. He asked if people were dying from it, and I said that some were.

I said it wasn’t bad in the US yet, but it was certainly heading in that direction. I told him most of what I had read in the news. I didn’t feel comfortable acting as some health expert, but he did seem appreciative that he knew more about the situation at the end of the ride than he did at the start.

In my hotel room, I worked on a story about Kemba Walker’s shooting slump. It seemed a bit trivial, but writing about basketball every day is, in essence, a bit trivial anyway. So I looked up some stats.

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Later in the night, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw a stream of tweets about some commotion at the Jazz-Thunder game in Oklahoma City. The players had been taken off the floor moments before tipoff with no explanation, and everyone was on edge. About an hour later, it was revealed that Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus, and that the NBA season would be suspended indefinitely.

The Jazz had played in Boston five nights earlier. My mind started racing.

I hadn’t been in contact with Gobert that night, had I? But what if we had just opened the same door? I’m always on germ alert anyway, carrying hand sanitizer and applying generously, but would that even help? What if I had to stay in Milwaukee now?

I wrote a quick story about the news and then I called my mother, even though she obviously knew less about my current situation than I did. It still made me feel better.

I booked a 7 a.m. Thursday flight back to Boston, made it home to my apartment safely, and have been wondering what will happen next ever since.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.