By Gio Gloria

NBA fans were caught by surprise when news broke out that Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). There was a mixture of shock, fear, and a little bit of anger, especially when a video of the two-time Defensive Player of the Year carelessly touching multiple microphones days before his positive result surfaced. Following the stoppage of that evening’s Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City Thunder game, the NBA decided to suspend the rest of the 2019-2020 season. 

The subsequent days took a turn for the worse and further validated the NBA’s sudden season stoppage as Gobert’s teammate and fellow All-Star Donovan Mitchell tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, Detroit Pistons center Christian Wood was also afflicted with the coronavirus disease after defending Gobert and posting arguably his best game of the season when he finished with team-highs of 30 points and 11 rebounds in a 111-105 loss to Utah. Both were determined to have the virus after the Jazz and the teams they recently faced were tested.

All seemed well under control as the NBA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released more guidelines on social gatherings, rules on limiting interactions among players and other personnel, and other measures aimed at reducing risk for everyone involved. But fast forward to the early hours of March 18, when The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Kevin Durant and three other players from the Brooklyn Nets tested positive for COVID-19. 

Two days later, COVID-19’s wrath continued to spread in the NBA as the Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart, two players from the Los Angeles Lakers, and members of the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers organizations tested positive for the coronavirus disease. The Lakers played the Nets back on March 10, two days before the NBA suspended its season, while the Celtics played the Jazz back on March 7. Boston later clarified in a statement that Smart was tested “because of exposure to a known positive case”, which could mean he could have gotten it off the court. 

Despite being one of the more proactive and progressive sports leagues in the world, the NBA still could not completely evade the coronavirus disease. The league was already in the process of developing guidelines amidst the developing COVID-19 issue when news of Gobert’s positive test came out. The rate at which new cases are discovered clearly outpaced the preparations of many jurisdictions and institutions, making any comparison to the 2003 SARS-CoV epidemic a far cry from what the world is going through now. 

If there is any consolation to this whole COVID-19 situation, these recent developments continue to highlight the severity of the crisis the world is facing now. The NBA allows its players to speak their mind on a myriad of issues and the COVID-19-afflicted players speaking out in partnership with the league shows that a coordinated effort can help in bringing awareness to an issue that goes beyond themselves.

The fact that Gobert, Mitchell, Wood, Smart, the Nets, and the Lakers were affected all by playing on the same court at one point in time shows how contagious COVID-19 is and proves that even those with access to state-of-the-art medical facilities are not safe from catching the virus. It also emphasizes the need to be more careful given that those around them (and even us) may not have access to the excellent health benefits of NBA teams (e.g. sophisticated resources or even a surprisingly quick access to COVID-19 test kits), are of advanced age, or have underlying conditions that make their immune systems weaker. Taking care of oneself isn’t merely for one’s own well-bring anymore; it is now for those within his or her close proximity. 

COVID-19 has swept across the globe, paralyzing economies and throwing financial markets into disarray. In the grand scheme of things, basketball rightfully takes a back seat to what is unfolding as an unprecedented public health crisis. While the world has become more interconnected thanks in large part to globalization and continuously improving technology, the best interventions require us to do quite the opposite, isolate ourselves for the betterment of the community as a whole. The initiatives of the NBA and other sports leagues around the world show that while they do wish to bring everyone together for the love of the game at the soonest possible time, doing so would require everyone some time apart. And it is through these singular steps that the community and the rest of the world can ease the heightened emotions brought about by COVID-19 and help in stopping a relentless disease that keeps on coming.