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A Year Later: Shutting Down the NBA

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In the face of the unknowns of the coronavirus, league commissioner Adam Silver faced tough decisions.

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

A year ago, the world changed. In March of 2020, the United States was hit with the Covid-19 and life as we knew it came to a stop. Basketball was one of the first casualties of the virus and the NBA shut down temporarily — an unprecedented move. In a recent article for the New York Times, Alan Blinder and Joe Drape detail the events that led up to the shut down of not only the NBA, but essentially the entire sports world.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver explains watching the situation closely starting as early as January when they shut down offices in Shanghai and Beijing.

We were tracking it closely because of our business in China and because we have offices in Shanghai and Beijing, which we closed on Jan. 23. On Jan. 29, the Brooklyn Nets had a Chinese New Year celebration. I ran into Dr. David Ho, a virologist.

I remember him saying to me, “It’s a very bad sign that Chinatown in New York is empty because you at least have a portion of the population who knows how bad this is, even if other people aren’t talking about it.”

On March 11, Silver started preliminary meetings with the NBPA and the team owners.

I had a meeting with Michele Roberts [the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association]. We discussed the possibility that we may need to play games with reduced numbers of fans.

We had a full N.B.A. owners meeting by conference call just to discuss the situation. We wanted to hear from every single team. We made no decisions at the time.

Shortly after, on that same day, Silver received news that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19.

I had just left the office, and our general counsel called me. I was on my way home, and he called and said that we’ve just gotten this positive test of Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz. I didn’t say in that sentence, “Shut everything down.” I wanted to hear what the recommendation was of the Oklahoma state health commissioner. I also spoke to Sam Presti, the Thunder president, and Clay Bennett, the Thunder owner, in the next 10 minutes because we all knew the players were taking the floor for the game in Oklahoma City.

That call ultimately led to the decision to temporarily put the season on hold.

I sat in the car in front of my apartment building for about another 10 minutes, and I made the decision that we were going to cancel that game. One of the officials that was working the New Orleans-Sacramento game had worked one of the Jazz games earlier. As soon as I had a few more minutes to think about what was happening, it then became obvious we needed to cancel that game.

Then we put out a notice that we were putting the season on pause until we had additional information.

Until that moment, it felt like there would have been an opportunity to deal with a single case on an isolated basis.

So much was still unknown about Covid-19 and protocols were not yet in place. Decisions had to be made on the fly.

The night went on very late because the issue became: What now happens to the Utah Jazz? Given that Rudy clearly had direct contact with his teammates, it was unclear what should happen. At one point, Sam Presti [of the Thunder] was arranging for cots for them to sleep in the arena, because it was not clear whether it was appropriate for them to go to a hotel. It wasn’t until roughly around midnight that we had secured a hotel for them.

Adam Silver and the NBA acted quickly, trying to keep the players and everyone involved as safe as possible. The league developed the Bubble, and several months later in July of 2020, the league continued the season at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, successfully making it all the way through the championships without one positive covid test. The NBA began its 2020-2021 season with protocols in place designed to keep players, coaches, and staff safe while resuming a slightly shorter schedule to be played in NBA arenas across the country. Now, with vaccination underway, we may be that much closer to joining our favorite Portland Trail Blazers in the arena once more.