NBA suspends season amid pandemic: ‘We all have to look out for our fellow man’
PHILADELPHIA – As the Pistons boarded their bus for Wells Fargo Center late Wednesday afternoon, the Philadelphia 76ers sent an announcement to discourage fans feeling any symptoms of illness or those with vulnerabilities to infection from attending the game with the Pistons scheduled for less than three hours later.
On the bus ride, the NCAA announced March Madness would be held with arenas closed to the public. The Big Ten followed suit within the hour. While those decisions were being made, NBA owners were holding a conference call to discuss options – to suspend the season, play games in empty arenas or proceed with the schedule as it is.
Reaction to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 was spreading with a speed commensurate with the spread of the disease itself – spreading like a wildfire. And just as wildfires with enough intensity build into fire tornadoes, so too the NBA’s response to the coronavirus threat accelerated with tornadic force.
As the Pistons game with Philadelphia was winding down – a 124-106 loss to the 76ers most notable for Christian Wood setting a career scoring mark (32 points) for the third time in four games – news emerged that Utah’s Rudy Gobert was being taken to an Oklahoma City hospital to be tested for the disease. Within 30 minutes, two more startling stories broke: Gobert tested positive – and the NBA suspended the season.
What that means with any specificity is anyone’s guess at this point.
“It’s unprecedented,” Dwane Casey said minutes after receiving news of the suspension. “I don’t know all the information, but that just shows you how fragile everything is right now. It’s the prudent thing to do.”
The news of Gobert’s positive test struck home for the Pistons as they just hosted the Jazz on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena. Because COVID-19 has an incubation period of 10 to 14 days – longer than most viruses – Pistons players and all those they’ve come into contact with over the past several days could be at risk without knowing it.
“It’s in the back of our minds,” Langston Galloway said. “We understand the space that we’re in right now, knowing that we just played them. But at the same time, we’re just taking it one step at a time, being cautious with everything. Once we get back to Detroit, we’ll see what’s next and just go from there.”
The uncertainty of a disease with so many variables and unknowns – and with a vaccine likely at least a year away – is reason enough to proceed with extreme caution, Casey believes.
“I don’t know. We don’t know,” Casey said of implications for the Pistons due to their recent interaction with Gobert and the Jazz. “That should be a concern for everybody. That’s one reason why the league should be suspended until we get a grasp on what’s going on.”
Because their exposure to Gobert makes it likely the Pistons will be advised to proceed with extreme caution for the next week-plus until they’re safely past the 10-14 window, there will be no team gatherings or practices, obviously, until the NBA offers further direction.
“We know there’s a lot going on and we’re all just trying to figure out what’s the next step,” Galloway said. “There really isn’t much more we can say about it. We’re just all trying to be cautious and figure out what the league’s going to do going forward and listen to what they want us to do.”
Casey said he was in communication with Pistons owner Tom Gores before the game.
“I texted with my owner,” he said. “He was wanting to know how everyone was doing. He was on the conference call with the league at the time. We’ve had meetings with our organization as far as taking precautions. When something like this happens with Utah, that’s uncharted waters as far as sports goes.”
And as far as the world at large goes, too. Just as the virus has no respect for international borders or physical barriers, neither is there any separation between the world of sports and the world at large when it comes to dealing with a pandemic.
“It’s always been where you could lean on sports to ease your nerves or ease the situation,” Casey said. “But now we’re just like everyone else. We’re involved. We’re looking out for each other, for teammates, our families. … We all have families. I’m concerned with my family, my kids. We all have to take care of ourselves and look out for our fellow man.”