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Friday, April 12, 2024

Commentary: The Day the Sports World Stood Still

On March 11, the NBA took an unprecedented step in the face of an ongoing pandemic

“The NBA has suspended the season.”

That six-word tweet sent out by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on the afternoon of March 11 set off a shockwave of confusion throughout the NBA, the sports world and the country. In a span of exactly 74 minutes, professional sports across the globe were thrown into a period of unprecedented uncertainty. 

Earlier that day, I decided to make the short trip across the causeway to Sacramento to watch the New Orleans Pelicans play the Sacramento Kings. Although I am not a fan of either team, I am a fan of players like rookie forward Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, so I was looking forward to watching them play. After all, everyone needs a break sometimes and, for me, I found it watching some of the world’s best players live. 

As I entered the Golden 1 Center, there was a certain buzz in the air regarding this particular game. It was going to be nationally televised on ESPN, everyone wanted to see the up-and-coming star in Williamson and it was a big game in terms of playoff seeding. Yet, that wasn’t the feeling that I got upon entering the arena. 

A few hours earlier, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship Tournaments would be held without fans and only with “essential staff and limited family attendance.” Wojnarowski also reported the day before that the NBA Board of Governors would join a conference call with league commissioner Adam Silver to discuss options that included moving games to neutral sites, playing games without fans or even, more drastically, suspending the league for a period of time. 

This was all in response to the growing coronavirus crisis that was growing and continues to grow rapidly across the globe. Seemingly every sports league and large event had begun taking precautionary measures, but it seemed like no one truly understood the magnitude of this situation. 

I walked around the arena and went down courtside to see the players go through their pre-game warm-up routine. Williamson, Ball, Ingram and several others were all there, as I watched in awe. For me and everyone around me, there is always a sense of amazement when we see the athletes we watch on television right in front of our eyes, and this case was no different. 

After standing there for about 20 minutes, I got a Twitter notification on my phone. It was the Wojnarowski tweet announcing that the NBA season had been suspended. As I looked up, it seemed like all the fans around me began to receive the news, one by one. We all began talking to each other in confusion about what just happened — the moment seemed surreal. Questions began to arise as we wondered whether this game would be played. It was a circumstance that was hard to wrap our minds around. 

It slowly became known that the NBA’s decision was in response to the news that Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. The game between the Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier in the day was postponed shortly before tip-off because of this news and was the first domino to fall. The Utah team was quarantined in Chesapeake Arena until the early morning, when they were finally given the green light to return back to their hotel. According to Wojnarowski, Gobert’s All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell was the only other Jazz player to test positive for the virus. A team chartered plane returned to Salt Lake City on the afternoon of March 12. 

At that moment, it was believed that that evening’s games were to go on as planned, then the league would suspend its operations the next day. That meant that the game I was attending in Sacramento would be the last NBA game for an indefinite period of time. The fans, still buzzing, filed into their seats as we approached tip-off. Everyone was ready to see their last glimpse of basketball for the time being.

Time began to run out before tip-off and the Pelicans never made it onto the court. Again, there was confusion in the arena. On-court personnel just stood there looking around and eventually everyone went back into the tunnel. It was finally announced that the game had been postponed. 

ESPN’s Andrew Lopez later reported that the Pelicans refused to go onto the court, as one of the game’s referees, Courtney Kirkland, had officiated a Utah Jazz game earlier in the week. Out of precaution, the NBA decided to suspend the game — and thus came the beginning of the suspended season. 

In a span of about 12 hours after the NBA’s decision, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League also suspended their seasons indefinitely. Many big college basketball conferences like the Big 12, Big East, ACC and several others canceled their respective tournaments. Major League Soccer suspended their season for at least 30 days. All remaining NCAA championships were canceled, and the NCAA’s spring recruiting period was suspended for a minimum of two weeks. 

The sports world, and the nation, were turned upside down in a matter of hours. What once never crossed the minds of fans had now become reality: There would be no sports for the foreseeable future.

For die-hard sports fans all across the globe, sports serves as an escape. An escape from problems, stress and the hardships of the real world. For a couple hours at least, everything in life takes a backseat, and you can enjoy the thrills of victory or the agony of defeat watching your favorite team play. To many, it is much bigger than a game. 

From the outside looking in, that may seem dramatic, but every sports fan shares a similar story — which is why this sudden sports stoppage hurts so many people. It took away something that for many may be their only escape from the troubles of life. In a way, sports seem to exist in a world of their own, isolated from everything else. This pandemic interrupted all of that, and the once seemingly far distant reality of life had now crossed into the games we love. 

We are paying full attention to this now. It seemed at one point like something that would pass, but the necessary attention was not given to this outbreak from the beginning, in sports and across the globe. This indefinite break cuts deep for fans of the game, but if that means keeping athletes who unknowingly carry the virus from spreading it to others or from passing it to those who are less healthy, then so be it. We are learning that containment is our best recourse, and that requires that drastic measures are taken.

We are all going to be without most sports for what has the potential to be a very long time. That makes what’s happening miserable. For fans like me, sports serve as an outlet of self-expression and a means of forming bonds with people you might otherwise never talk to. Whether it’s going to the stadium, getting together to watch the game with your friends or even just watching it alone, it is an experience that is nearly impossible to recreate any other way. 

The coronavirus pandemic is a problem much bigger than sports and we must understand that. For everyone, March 11 became a wake-up call that this is a serious issue. The sports world and the real world has now become intertwined, and this unforgettable day will live in the mind of many, far after this crisis subsides. For now, it is important to take care of ourselves. 

 It was the right thing to do — as much as it pains us to realize. And whenever this is over, we will hopefully grow an even greater appreciation for something that we once took for granted. 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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