HOUSTON – In an unprecedented and historic move, the NBA announced Wednesday night that it is suspending its season after a player on the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19, an illness caused by exposure to a novel coronavirus.
The league did not announce when it would resume the season but instead said in a news release that it would “use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the corona-virus pandemic.”
The last game of Wednesday night’s six-game slate, New Orleans at Sacramento, was called off as well because one of the referees assigned to work that game, Courtney Kirkland, worked a Utah game on Monday.
Shortly before the league’s announcement, a scheduled game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz was postponed just before tipoff. According to ESPN, a member of the Thunder medical staff came onto the court to speak with officials and shortly after that the game was postponed. The Jazz player who tested positive was center Rudy Gobert, according to multiple reports.
The Thunder and Jazz were quarantined in Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Wolves were scheduled to play in Oklahoma City on Friday as they continued a six-game road trip.
But for the foreseeable future they won’t be playing that game for a while — if ever.
Even though the Wolves’ next game on this road trip was scheduled to be in Oklahoma City, the team did not fly there after Tuesday’s game. Instead, they remained in Houston. They had an off day there Wednesday and were scheduled to practice in Houston on Thursday before flying to Oklahoma City in the afternoon.
“The Timberwolves fully support the NBA’s decision tonight to suspend game play until further notice,’’ the team said in a statement. ‘‘The safety of our fans, players and staff is of the utmost importance. We will that this hiatus to work with the League and the Minnesota Department of Health on next steps in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The league’s announcement, which came around 8:30 p.m., capped a long day of the league discussing what it should do amid the mounting pandemic.
Earlier in the day, ESPN reported that the league, after consulting with owners and its Board of Governors, was considering a hiatus on the season but was leaning toward playing games with no fans.
But the news of a player testing positive quickly changed that. The league allowed other games that were still underway to finish.
On Tuesday, the Wolves played under the league’s revamped media protocols designed to prevent the spread of the virus. There were no open locker rooms, and instead the Wolves used what once was the media dining room as their makeshift news conference room. Several players lamented the possibility of having to play games in empty arenas.
“I wouldn’t enjoy it at all,” guard D’Angelo Russell said. “It would be hard to get up for that. I don’t even know what that would look like to be honest. I think you would hear the commentators over there the whole time. It’d be weird.”
Coach Ryan Saunders said he has had the team’s medical personnel address players and go over the symptoms of the virus, how it is spread and the best preventive measures to guard against it, like frequent washing of hands and not signing autographs for fans.
Saunders also professed faith in the league to do what was best for everyone involved.
“Obviously precautions need to be taken, and there’s a reason the NBA and Commissioner [Adam] Silver are so forward thinking,” Saunders said.
“It’s because they exhaust all options and look at all situations and what should be done and what the best position [is] to put our fans, our players and our staff and everybody involved with the NBA in.
“So ... any decision that’s made, we know it’s for the best for our public health.”
Even if that means stopping the season for now.