While it may seem the sports world has been mired in the COVID-19 pandemic for months, it was less than two weeks ago that the NBA made the decision to suspend its 2019-20 campaign — an unprecedented move that triggered a wave of similar postponements or cancellations among other leagues and events.
For fans, the need for isolation and social distancing has brought on an odd stretch with the entire sports world seemingly shut down. For athletes, it’s surely been even more bizarre, with routines halted.
New Orleans Pelicans veteran J.J. Redick was preparing to take the floor against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, Mar. 11, the night the NBA suspended play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On a recent episode of his podcast, Redick detailed the players’ perspective on how the night unfolded leading up to the Association’s landmark decision to suspend play.
First off, in the afternoon that Wednesday, the players’ thoughts were far from the possibility of a hiatus, he said, instead focused simply on what NBA games would look like without fans.
“Before we ever got to the arena, they had announced that the Nets and the Warriors were going to play the next night with no fans. Talking with guys, we were all very curious to see how that game was going to look on television, what that viewing experience was going to be like,” Redick said.
Of course, there was one possibility that put the potential of a hiatus on the table.
“In talking to our head trainer Aaron Nelson and some people in our front office, it became apparent that if there was a positive test for an NBA player, that it was inevitable that they were going to shut the league down,” Redick said. “‘Like, ‘One positive test, we’re shutting the league down.'”
Arriving at the arena and going about business as usual, Redick and the rest of the team saw the situation with the Jazz-Oklahoma City game unfold on TV about an hour before their own game was to tip off.
“The other ESPN game was on in the locker room — all of a sudden it flips to whatever’s going on with OKC-Jazz, and there’s the byline of, you know, there’s a player quarantined or they’re testing a player,” Redick continued. “And then it comes out a few minutes later that it’s Rudy Gobert. He’s tested positive. I was standing next to our PR guy, Will, and within like three minutes, he had a memo from the league that the league had been suspended.
“So, at this point, there’s like 50:45 on the [countdown] clock, we’re getting ready to do our meeting, and they’re telling us we have to play that night — that all games are suspended except for those games that night. I think for most guys it was a little surreal. You know, we’re watching a team doctor sprint across the floor, stop a game just as you’re getting ready to tip it off. We ended up at 38 [minutes to tipoff] having a normal meeting, Alvin [Gentry] said a few things, ‘Let’s go out and play.’ But you could tell like we were all a little… We were all shook, man. It was a weird feeling, for sure.”
With the clock ticking down before tipoff and confusion about whether the league’s hiatus was to include games about to be played, like the Pelicans’, the players remained in the locker room trying to grasp the severity of the situation, Redick said, with 20,000 fans in the stands awaiting a game.
But a found connection between Gobert, the Jazz, and the impending Pelicans-Kings game brought things to a halt.
“We’re getting ready to go out finally to the hallway, to do our prayer, go out for warmups, and Aaron Nelson sprints through the locker room to try to find David Griffin. And that’s when we found out Courtney Kirkland had reffed the Jazz game,” Redick said. “So, then we were having a conversation in the locker room like, you know, ‘I don’t think it’s safe to play.’ No one felt like it was safe to play.
“Had the NBA made us play, we would have hooped, but I know a lot of guys expressed concern that they didn’t feel like it was safe to go out and play. Not just for us, but for anyone — anyone that was in that arena that night.”
Fast forward two weeks, and much of the world has been brought to a standstill in an effort to slow the pandemic, the sports world effectively shutting down as a result. This time last week, implications of a recommendation from the CDC pinned the NBA’s return at mid-to-late June, at the earliest. But much remains up in the air regarding when a possible return will in fact come, and what exactly will transpire when it does — an off-shoot impact of COVID-19 that Redick said is far, far beyond the limits of what he expected to eventually see in the days leading up to that evening the NBA suspend play.
“The possibility that I kept saying early [that] week, even probably the weekend prior to [that] Wednesday night, I was like, ‘Yeah, it sounds like it’s inevitable that at some point we’re playing in an empty arena,” Redick said.
“Nowhere in my mind was I like, ‘This thing’s getting shut down,’ much less the entire sports industry, the entire service industry. The entire country.”