NBA and NHL Suspend Seasons, NCAA Cancels March Madness As Coronavirus Spreads

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and actor Tom Hanks both tested positive for Coronavirus, as President Trump announced a one-month ban on travel from Europe.

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The same day the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global pandemic, an NBA star tested positive for coronavirus, prompting the league to suspend all games indefinitely. 

At the same time, the NCAA announced Wednesday that upcoming tournaments will be held in empty arenas in order to help stem the spread of the bug. Then they fully canceled March Madness on Thursday night. Earlier in the day, the NHL also announced that it would follow suit and suspend its 2019-20 season, and the MLB halted Spring Training.

All this in addition to one of America’s most well-liked movie stars, Tom Hanks, revealing he and his wife had been quarantined with the disease.

At a press conference on March 9th, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert rose to leave, then turned and rubbed each microphone on the table, apparently joking about sanitary measures being taken to prevent the spread of pathogens.

On March 11th, Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. The NBA immediately suspended the rest of the season. 

The NCAA’s March Madness was, perhaps surprisingly, not canceled. But with arenas closed to spectators, it was set to become a very different event, one that might feel to players like glorified practice in a sport that depends on the added drama of vocal crowd reactions. 

A general view of American Airlines Arena after the game between the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets on March 11, 2020 in Miami, Florida. 

The NBA suspension and NCAA announcement were just two startling items on a day when the news cycle boiled over with coronavirus-related developments. In addition to the WHO declaration, Hanks announced from Australia that he and wife Rita Wilson had contracted the virus, a fact later confirmed by the actor’s rapper son, Chet Haze. 

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On Wednesday night, President Trump gave an Oval Office address in which he announced new measures directed at minimizing the danger of infection. The most dramatic: A one-month ban on all travel from Europe (he made exceptions for the United Kingdom and U.S. citizens coming home), effective Friday, March 13th.

The White House later clarified that this ban applied to “people, not goods,” after overnight stock futures went into a sharp downward slide. 

The president also said that in order to “ensure that working Americans impacted by the virus can stay home without fear of financial hardship,” he would “soon be taking emergency action, which is unprecedented, to provide financial relief.”

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had a pragmatic reaction to the NBA’s decision. From USA Today

“I trust (NBA commissioner) Adam (Silver),” Cuban said. “You know what, it’s really not about basketball or money. Literally, if this thing is just exploding to where all of a sudden players and owners have it, you think about your family. You really want to make sure you’re doing this the right way. Because now, it’s much more personal. You see what’s happening in other countries … stunning isn’t the right word. It’s crazy.” 

Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Vince Carter, age 43, had an emotional reaction to the idea that he may have already played his final game in the league, as he’d planned on retiring at the end of the season. 

“I’m appreciative,” he said, “…the game’s been good.” He later tweeted about it as well.

“Such a weird night,” Carter wrote, “but I am truly thankful for each and every person during this 22yr journey. If this is really it, I thank everyone for your love and support for all these years.”

Other NBA players clearly found it “weird” as well, like Stephen Curry.

“2020 aint it,” Curry tweeted, “Don’t know what to compare this situation to…just gotta buckle up and take care of yourself and those around you. Basketball will be back at some point but right now, protect yourself and stay safe out there!”

LeBron James, who had said he would not play in empty arenas, also addressed the suspension, and he sounded tired.

King James tweeted, “Man we cancelling sporting events, school, office work, etc etc. What we really need to cancel is 2020! Damn it’s been a rough 3 months. God bless and stay safe.”

Even as the NCAA made its decision to continue games without fans in the seats, universities and colleges across the United States began taking measures to empty campuses and move classes online. A researcher from Georgetown University created a crowdsourced spreadsheet to track institutional measures. 

By the morning of March 12, the spreadsheet had info on over 200 schools, including Harvard, which expected to have classes “fully online” by March 23, and Duke, which extended spring break until March 22 with the expectation of beginning remote, online courses on March 23.

Also as of March 12, virus tracking site reported 129,068 cases worldwide with 4,740 dead and 55,687 sick. The mortality rate was 3.67 percent—much higher than the seasonal flu.

Before the official suspension, the NBA had joined Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer in a statement which said in part that they’d all decided to close locker room and clubhouse access was to non-essential personnel, based on “consultation with infectious disease and public health experts.”

Expect more suspensions and cancellations—and celebrity infections—to come.