‘That’s the Ballgame’: Inside the NBA’s COVID-19 Outbreak & What Comes Next

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Jeenah Moon/Getty Images. Pictured: NBA league offices

Welcome to the other side of the looking glass.

When measures were implemented earlier this week to keep media 6-8 feet from all NBA coaches and players to try and contain the spread of COVID-19, it was explained to me that the key was trying, at all costs, to keep it from the players.

More than one member of league personnel told me that should a player contract this particular strand of coronavirus, it wouldn’t just mean quarantining that team, but the last five teams they’ve played. At that point, the NBA would be shutting down. “That’s the ballgame,” one source said.

It was confirmed by ESPN on Wednesday night that the Jazz’s past five opponents — the Cavaliers, Celtics, Knicks, Pistons and Raptors — have all been placed under quarantine in the wake of Utah’s Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19. There have been concerns from teams who played those teams recently that they also need testing. It is reasonable to suggest that we are within range of all NBA personnel needing to be tested.

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images. Pictured: Rudy Gobert

Sources with two different teams that are not under quarantine suggested to The Action Network they are planning for “proactive” self-quarantines. Team facilities are being shut down for 72 hours, awaiting a weekend update from the league on Sunday, and while players who have not been in direct contact with the Jazz are not being advised a strict self-quarantine, they are being told to exercise social distancing and to have limited outside public exposure throughout that period.

That is, indeed, the ballgame, as the league suspended play Wednesday night. Early reports Thursday including Mark Cuban’s discussion with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols suggest the league is leaning toward postponing and resuming play eventually. Whether that means resuming the regular season or beginning at a future point with the playoffs as if the season had ended Wednesday night is unknown.

And now, there’s an expectation that the league will be suspended for 30 days minimum.

There are, at this point, more questions than answers. Most league sources queried on what happens next had the same response: “No idea.” The problem is not just the unprecedented nature of the season’s disruption, nor the uncertainty regarding the health status of all 30 teams’ players, coaches, and staff, but the ongoing and rapidly evolving nature of the crisis in the United States at large. (The Jazz played the Raptors in Toronto, Canada recently, as well.)

The most likely scenario, based solely on the “feelings” of league executives, is the playoffs resuming at a later date, with no further regular-season games played. Those executives were quick to stress that the league has issued no such indications, that is simply the most deductively reasonable solution to the issue, provided the crisis abates in the coming months.

Obviously, should the pandemic extend into the deep months of the summer, it would create a stronger likelihood of an overall cancellation of both the regular season and postseason.

There are all sorts of dominos still to fall, about next season, the draft, free agency.

We don’t know where this is going, but expect the next major update to come Friday with more substantive policies shared with the media (by leak or press release) Sunday night and into Monday.

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