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NBA Calls Off Season After Player Tests Positive For Coronavirus


The NBA has suspended its entire season. That decision came last night after a player with the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is following this and joins us this morning.

Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Strange times, Rachel.

MARTIN: Strange times, indeed. I mean, this was - this was crazy last night. I mean, fans were in the stands waiting for the start of this Oklahoma City Thunder game against the Utah Jazz. And then - what? - officials just came out and said the game's off, everyone go home.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Let me take you back a little bit before that. Utah all-star center Rudy Gobert had been sick. He'd had symptoms that led to tests for influenza, strep throat, an upper respiratory infection. And the tests were negative. And as a precaution, he was tested for COVID-19. That came back positive. Now, according to The Athletic, he's feeling good. And even though he says he could have played last night before that Utah-Oklahoma City game (laughter), they said no. The game was called off right before tipoff, after the test result came back. Another game called off when it was learned that one of the refs had worked a Utah game a few days before, meaning he was potentially exposed to the coronavirus. And soon after all this, the NBA said, that's it; we're suspending the season.

MARTIN: Have they said anything more? I mean, what's the rationale, I guess, for the decision in this moment? I mean, you would think that they - it happened so dramatically, I guess.

GOLDMAN: It really did. You know, the NBA hasn't answer directly why it jumped from these games to suspending everything. But what we know about the coronavirus spread, you know, it's person to person - people who are in close proximity to each other. And basketball players obviously fit that description.

MARTIN: Right.

GOLDMAN: According to ESPN, 34 players shared the floor with Gobert since last Friday. And they have lots of questions and concerns about who came into contact exactly, who might have gotten the virus as a result - and not just the players but all the people they might have come in contact with as well. You know? So you see the potential mushrooming characteristic of this. So the season's suspended. The NBA says it will use this hiatus to determine the next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.

MARTIN: And what's the response been like to this decision?

GOLDMAN: Well, outside the NBA, we've heard from at least one professional sport, the National Hockey League, which says it's continuing to consult with medical experts. It's evaluating the options, and the league expects to have a further update today. Inside the NBA, you know, the words you're hearing are stunned - stunned but supportive.

You know, this whole thing has escalated so quickly in the past few days. First, you had a ban on media in NBA locker rooms, then the possibility of not letting fans watch games in person. And some players were skeptical of these moves as they went along. Some even joked about coronavirus concerns. Rudy Gobert, in fact, finished a news conference earlier this week by touching all the reporters' microphones - he thought it was in jest - before leaving the room. And now you wonder what those media people are thinking after last night's news.

MARTIN: Wait - Rudy Gobert, the same guy who contracted the coronavirus.

GOLDMAN: Exactly right.

MARTIN: Wow. So what about March Madness? The Division 1 tournaments are supposed to start next week. What's going to happen?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know - and it's being hotly debated now what to do. I mean, with last night's NBA news, there's a belief by some that college basketball is to follow that lead and shut it down. The NCAA, yesterday, already - the other big news - it took the unprecedented step of announcing there'd be no fans at the men's and women's tournaments, in the sense, taking the madness out of March Madness.


GOLDMAN: The tournaments are still on right now. This changes by the hour. But if a decision to cancel happened, Rachel, I don't think too many people would be stunned at this point the way things have happened so quickly.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Thank you so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.