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On March 11, 2020, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced the suspension of the 2019–20 season following Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19. Gobert had come down with an illness before a scheduled basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder that day at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. He was not at the arena but instead at the team's hotel, and was later taken to a nearby hospital where he tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, Gobert's teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive for the virus.

On June 4, the NBA approved a plan to continue the 2019–20 season with 22 teams playing in Bay Lake, Florida at Walt Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the NBA Bubble.

Background

The NBA had been tracking the coronavirus pandemic closely, speaking with public health authorities such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on the matter. The league spoke to the players' union on the prospect of playing games without fans. The league held a conference call on March 11, 2020 between Commissioner Adam Silver and the 30 owners to reach a consensus on the matter. They were envisioning a scenario where games were to be played with essential personnel only and no fans in attendance, following suit with the NCAA.

The NBA's first material measures included limiting locker room access to players, coaches, general managers, and basketball and public relations staff, with the notable exclusion of media. The NBA had told teams they should make plans for the possibility of playing games without fans and with only essential personnel in attendance.

The Golden State Warriors earlier that day said the game the following day between them and the Brooklyn Nets would be played without fans, offering refunds or exchanges, following San Francisco's order prohibiting assemblies larger than 1,000 individuals. The Cleveland Cavaliers were also going to play home games without fans, due to Ohio governor Mike DeWine banning mass gatherings in the state.

Suspension

The NBA indefinitely suspended the season following Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 prior to the tip-off of the Jazz-Thunder game. Players warming up were told to return to their locker rooms. 30 minutes later, attendees were told by the public-address announcer that the game was postponed "due to unforeseen circumstances."

The league asked teams who played the Jazz in the past 10 days to undergo 14 days self-isolation, including the Cleveland CavaliersNew York KnicksBoston CelticsDetroit PistonsToronto Raptors, and Oklahoma City Thunder. On March 12, 2020, the Philadelphia 76ers were asked to undergo self-isolation as well.

The NBA G-League also suspended their season.

Following CDC recommendation that events of 50 or more persons be cancelled for up to eight weeks, the NBA presented a best-case scenario of a return to play in June 2020, with the season ending in August 2020.

Gobert's positive test and the suspension of play also caused a massive ripple effect across the sports world as numerous amateur and professional sporting events and seasons were either suspended, postponed, or cancelled as a result, including the NCAA Tournament, the start of the MLB season, college winter and spring sports seasons, multiple association football seasons, the PGA Tour, and the NHL season.

Subsequent actions

On March 12, the NBA delineated a set of policies effective through the 16th. These included players being required to remain in the market of their team, no group workouts/practices, and team physicians/trainers talking to each player daily. The following day, the league and the National Basketball Players Association set a moratorium period until April 10, with players getting their pay in full on March 15. A memo sent to the NBA teams on March 15 allowed for players to travel out of their market provided they quarantined, did social distancing, and gave notices of their whereabouts. Teams were encouraged to do health check-ins.

On April 6, Ernie Johnson of the NBA on TNT conducted an interview with Silver over videotelephony, which was posted to the league's Twitter account. In it, Silver stated there would be no decision on a restart of the season made before May 1 at the bare minimum, a date that Silver admitted that a decision may not be made, and it could come much later.

Infected players and personnel

The following is a list of NBA players and personnel from the 2019–20 season that are known to have been infected:

No. Name Team Announced Role
1 Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz March 11, 2020 Player
2 Donovan Mitchell March 12, 2020 Player
3 Christian Wood Detroit Pistons March 14, 2020 Player
4 Kevin Durant Brooklyn Nets March 17, 2020 Players
5 Undisclosed
6
7
8 Undisclosed Denver Nuggets March 19, 2020 Undisclosed
9 Undisclosed Philadelphia 76ers March 19, 2020 Undisclosed
10
11
12 Undisclosed Los Angeles Lakers March 19, 2020 Players
13
14 Marcus Smart Boston Celtics March 19, 2020 Player
15 Maury Hanks Detroit Pistons March 26, 2020 Scout
16 James Dolan New York Knicks March 28, 2020 Owner
17 Nikola Jokić Denver Nuggets June 23, 2020 Player
18 Undisclosed Phoenix Suns June 23, 2020 Players
19
20 Malcolm Brogdon Indiana Pacers June 24, 2020 Players
21 Buddy Hield Sacramento Kings June 24, 2020 Player
22 Alex Len
23 Jabari Parker
24 Derrick Jones Jr. Miami Heat June 25, 2020 Player
25 Spencer Dinwiddie Brooklyn Nets June 29, 2020 Players
26 DeAndre Jordan
27 Undislosed New Orleans Pelicans June 30, 2020 Players
28
29
30 Landry Shamet Los Angeles Clippers July 4, 2020 Player
31 Russell Westbrook Houston Rockets July 13, 2020 Players
32 Eric Bledsoe Milwaukee Bucks July 16, 2020 Player
33 Aron Baynes Phoenix Suns July 22, 2020 Players
34 Ricky Rubio

On March 12, during a special edition of Inside the NBA, Hall of Fame player and analyst Charles Barkley revealed he was tested for COVID-19 after suffering from an illness following a recent trip to New York, which was rapidly becoming the worst hit locality of the U.S. pandemic. Barkley self-quarantined in Atlanta. Barkley's test was subsequently negative and he completed his isolation period two weeks later.

On March 17, the Brooklyn Nets announced that four of their players had tested positive as well, one of whom included forward Kevin Durant.

On March 19, the Denver Nuggets announced one of their players tested positive on the 16th, and the Philadelphia 76ers announced three of their staffers also tested positive. On the same day, the Los Angeles Lakers announced two players tested positive. Marcus Smart later went to Twitter to announce that his results came back positive after he was tested five days prior.

On March 25, Christian Wood announced he had "fully recovered" from the virus. On the same day, it was reported that a cameraman who worked the Jazz–Pistons game on March 7 at Little Caesars Arena had been infected by the virus and was placed in a medically induced coma. He would later recover.

On March 26, it was announced that Maury Hanks, a Pistons scout, had been hospitalized with the virus. He later survived and was discharged from the hospital.

On March 27, the Utah Department of Health cleared the Utah Jazz of COVID-19.

On March 27, ESPN NBA analyst Doris Burke revealed she had tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks earlier. Burke had been experiencing symptoms before calling her scheduled game on March 11 in Dallas. She is now symptom-free.

On March 28, New York Knicks owner James Dolan tested positive for the coronavirus.

On April 13, the mother of Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, Jacqueline Towns, died at age 58 of complications of the coronavirus after having previously been placed in a medically-induced coma.

On May 22, it was announced that Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing tested positive for the coronavirus.

On June 23, it was reported that Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić tested positive for COVID-19 a week prior.

On June 26, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced that 16 out of 302 players tested positive for COVID-19 in the first wave of mandatory testing.

Reactions

Players

The suspension drew remarks from several current and former NBA players, including LeBron JamesCJ McCollumJeremy LinLuka Dončić, and Trae Young. Several players pledged to offer assistance to arena workers across the league who are without work due to the league's response to the coronavirus, including Kevin LoveZion WilliamsonGiannis AntetokounmpoBlake Griffin, and Rudy Gobert.

Teams and arenas

The Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Detroit Pistons were among the first to announce plans that would pay workers for the days they are missing due to the suspension of the league.

National Hockey League (NHL)

On March 12, 2020, the following day after the NBA suspended the season, the NHL suspended their 2019–20 season. In a statement addressing the situation, the NHL included:

"The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities, while preparing for any possible developments without taking any premature or unnecessary measures. However, following last night's news that an NBA player has tested positive for the coronavirus – and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point – it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time."

The NHL became the first of the four major sports leagues to announce a return to play on May 26, 2020, with 24 of the league's 31 teams competing in a playoff tournament to decide the champion of the 2019–20 season.

Impact

The league was already set to lose revenue due to the controversy involving Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweets about Hong Kong protests regarding pro-democracy. The suspension is expected to cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue in national television advertisements and lost ticket sales. With the vast majority of events at arenas cancelled, down-the-line workers are at risk due to lost revenue from unused tickets and effective employment as a result of closed concession stands and surrounding team memorabilia stands and shops, along with surrounding entertainment districts.

Return

On June 4, 2020, the NBA Board of Governors approved 29–1 (with the lone dissenter being the Portland Trail Blazers) that would resume the 2019-20 season in Orlando, Florida at Walt Disney World after prior considering Las Vegas and Houston as potential spots. The season will continue as follows:

  • Training camp - July 9–11
  • Remainder of 2019–20 season - July 31 – October 12 (the season would resume for 22 teams on July 31, while Game 7 of the NBA Finals would take place no later than October 12)
  • Draft lottery - August 25
  • 2020 NBA draft - October 15
  • Free agency - October 18
  • 2020–21 training camp - November 10
  • 2020–21 season start - December 1

Additionally, the teams involved were subject to intense social restrictions and their movement was limited to the bubble.

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