The National Basketball Association has announced that it will suspend all games after tonight until further notice, following a player on the Utah Jazz testing positive for COVID-19. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” the association said in a statement.
The Jazz were in Oklahoma City to play the Thunder this evening, but the game was called off right before it was due to start, with players already introduced and the arena packed with fans. Utah’s star center Rudy Gobert was the player who tested positive for coronavirus, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. The NBA says the player was not in the arena tonight.
A surreal scene played out on TV and League Pass as match officials discussed the situation with coaches and stadium staff, with the commentators confused as to what was happening. Ultimately, the game was postponed over the PA system due to “unforeseen circumstances,” with the announcer assuring fans that “you are all safe.”
Tonight’s scheduled game featuring the New Orleans Pelicans at the Sacramento Kings was also postponed at the last minute, with Pelicans players apparently refusing to leave the locker room. The reason given on the televised broadcast was that a referee assigned to the game, Courtney Kirkland, also worked Monday night’s game in Utah between the Jazz and the Toronto Raptors.
Gobert had made light of the coronavirus outbreak earlier in the week, making a point to touch all of the microphones and recording equipment in the media room during a press conference.
Following the cancellation of the NBA season, which in turn led to the cancellation of the National Hockey League season due to the two leagues sharing some facilities, Gobert released a statement on his personal Instagram account apologizing for making light of the situation. “I hope my story serves as a waring and causes everyone to take this seriously,” he wrote. “I will do whatever I can to support using my experience as a way to educate others and prevent the spread of this virus.”
The NBA had already been considering its response to the COVID-19 situation, with reports suggesting that games could be played in empty arenas. LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers drew criticism for saying that he’d refuse to play under such conditions, though he later walked back his comments.
Update March 11th, 10:40PM ET: Added information on the canceled Pelicans-Kings game.
Update March 12th, 4:21PM ET: Added details of an Instagram post and apology from Rudy Gobert, as well as details regarding the subsequent canceling of the National Hockey League season.