N.B.A. Suspends Season After Player Tests Positive for Coronavirus

The N.B.A. abruptly suspended its season on Wednesday after a Utah Jazz player was found to have tested positive for coronavirus moments before a game began in Oklahoma City.

The league announced that the suspension would begin on Thursday, but the final game of Wednesday’s slate, between the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans, was canceled soon after the announcement.

It was a surreal day for the N.B.A. — starting with the news that one team, the Golden State Warriors, was barring fans from home games, and ending with the season in peril for the entire league.

“The N.B.A. will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic,” the league said in its statement Wednesday night.

The Jazz were seconds from tipping off against the Thunder at Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday night when the game was delayed for about 30 minutes, then called off. It was not immediately clear what was happening; in a bizarre scene, a member of the Thunder’s medical staff sprinted onto the court and spoke to the referees. Players from both teams then left for their locker rooms.

In a statement, the Jazz said that an unidentified player had been tested for the coronavirus after tests for influenza, strep throat and an upper respiratory infection came back negative.

“The individual’s symptoms diminished over the course of today, however in a precautionary measure, and in consultation and cooperation with N.B.A. medical staff and Oklahoma health officials, the decision was made to test for Covid-19,” the Jazz said in the statement, using the term for the disease caused by the virus.

Although the team did not name the infected player, a person familiar with the situation identified him as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

Gobert had recently made light of fears about the coronavirus outbreak when he spoke to reporters.

As the news of the season’s suspension broke, Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was shown on ESPN appearing shocked during a game between the Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets.

“This is crazy. This can’t be true,” Cuban said later during an interview with ESPN. He added, “This seems like more out of a movie than reality.”

This is not the first time an N.B.A. season has been shortened — the 2011 lockout, for example, limited the season to 66 games. The ripple effect of this suspension could be significant, with potentially substantial financial repercussions for the league if the hiatus is extended.

The N.B.A. has already lost untold millions in revenue because of an ongoing dispute with the Chinese government. Weeks without any sort of ticket sales would affect future salary caps, which are based on revenue streams like television rights and jersey sales. In addition, the playoffs are slated to start next month — a time when television ratings typically go up and more eyes are on the league.

The N.B.A. had been under increasing pressure from public officials to stop filling its arenas with thousands of fans amid the coronavirus pandemic. After San Francisco moved on Wednesday morning to ban gatherings of more than 1,000 people for at least two weeks, the Warriors became the first team to announce plans to play home games without fans in attendance — through at least March 21. Other teams had been debating whether they should do the same.

Their calculus was instantly upended by the news of Gobert’s test result, and the N.B.A. was left reeling — again — amid a season that has been full of challenges.

In October, the league became embroiled in controversy after an executive for the Houston Rockets tweeted a message supportive of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, just as the Lakers and the Nets were staging exhibitions in China. In January, David Stern, the former commissioner of the N.B.A. and one of its most influential figures, died several weeks after having a brain hemorrhage. Then, more tragedy: Kobe Bryant, the iconic player Lakers guard, was among nine people killed in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles on Jan. 26. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, a budding basketball star in her own right, was among the victims.

Now the conclusion of this unusual season is in doubt. With the Warriors on a sabbatical from their run of dominance because of injuries, the Lakers and the Clippers have appeared primed to fill the void as championship contenders, along with the Milwaukee Bucks, who are led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player Award winner. The playoffs were set to begin on April 18.

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