Within the span of a year, the thought of an athlete getting coronavirus went from a world-stopping news, such as when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive back in March, to another transaction on the injury report.
It has become so common as sports leagues have tried to carry on in the face of the virus that the news an athlete has tested positive lands on desensitized masses, who might shrug and carry on with their day.
Friday was a daunting reminder of the effect this virus can have when Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns announced he had tested positive, one of two positive tests on the Wolves that caused the NBA to postpone the team's game against Memphis, one of 13 such postponements this season.
Towns and his family have already been through enough, given that Towns has lost his mother to COVID-19 as well as six other family members, as he said in December. Now he must stave off the same virus that took several of his loved ones.
"It breaks my heart that my family, particularly my father and sister continue to suffer from the anxiety that comes along with this diagnosis as we know all too well what the end result could be …" Towns said Friday on social media. "To my niece and nephew, Jolani and Max, I promise you I will not end up in a box next to grandma and I will beat this."
It has been admirable how open Towns has been in discussing his personal pain. He has done so in an effort to make people aware of how serious the virus is.
His vulnerable words shed light on the emotional toll the virus can have. It's why Towns' positive test left the Wolves organization shaken. You could see it on the weary face and hear it in the uneasy voice of President Gersson Rosas when he spoke Friday night.
"That positive was very impactful, and our team, our organization, wasn't prepared to move forward [Friday]," Rosas said.
But so far, the NBA plays on. Despite the 13 postponements, there hasn't been an indication the league is ready to pause play. Instead, it is discussing adding a two-way roster spot to help supplement rosters ravaged by COVID. Like MLB and the NFL before it, the NBA, in its first attempt at playing outside its bubble, so far seems determined to charge through and play its schedule as best it can.
If Towns' positive test doesn't pause the season, it seems nothing short of a serious health problem for someone who contracts the virus will. Given the nature of roster sizes, the NBA is more vulnerable to postponements than MLB or NFL, considering if only a handful of players are exposed to the virus, it might put a whole team quickly below the eight-player minimum to take the floor. The Wolves went from having no COVID issues through Wednesday's game to Friday's game being postponed. The situation turned on a dime. Juancho Hernangomez is now in isolation for 10 days while Ricky Rubio was listed as out as well under COVID protocols.
The Wolves are going to have to move forward and possibly play as soon as Monday while Towns isolates. They will have to take the floor with the knowledge that their teammate, whose family this virus has upended, is now waging his own battle with it.
"We have to find ways to move forward and come together while he's away," Rosas said. "It's not something we want to do. But in this reality that we're in, we have to come together, and we hopefully can stay healthy and move forward and do the best we can while he's out."
That's the reality of sports in the pandemic — moving forward and doing the best you can on the field and in trying to limit the spread of COVID. The NBA is getting a crash course in what that's like, and another reminder of just what's at stake.