Mar 11, 2024 - News

Flashback: Jazz become the face of the NBA's grapple with COVID-19

A basketball arena with NBA players and referees standing around and talking

Chesapeake Energy Arena before the Utah Jazz game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 11, 2020. Photo: Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

What started off as a normal day for the NBA four years ago, quickly turned into a historical one as the league and the country began to grapple with COVID-19.

Flashback: The Utah Jazz were in Oklahoma City to face the Thunder on March 11, 2020. Tip-off was scheduled for 6pm.

  • The pregame events proceeded as normal. Starting lineups were announced, players went through warm-up routines, and the Thunder's hype team had the crowd energized and ready to go.

Yes, but: No basketball would be played. Shortly before tip-off, the Jazz reported a player had tested positive for COVID. He was later identified as center Rudy Gobert.

  • The teams were sent back to their locker rooms, and the Thunder's stadium was evacuated.
A group of men in the NBA talking to each other in a huddle.
Referees huddle with Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz and Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder to tell them the game is being postponed. Photo: Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

What they said: The player "tested negative for influenza, strep throat and an upper respiratory infection. The individual's symptoms diminished over the course of [Wednesday], however, in a precautionary measure, and in consultation and cooperation with NBA medical staff and Oklahoma health officials, the decision was made to test for COVID-19," ESPN reported from a team statement.

The fall out: Six games were scheduled to be played March 11. Four had already started and were finished, but the Jazz/Thunder and New Orleans/Sacramento games didn't start.

  • The league postponed the rest of the season.

Between the lines: For the Jazz, it was the start of the end. Gobert came under fire for testing positive after he mocked the relatively unknown virus by touching all the mics during a press conference. He later issued an apology.

  • Teammate Donovan Mitchell would also test positive for COVID, which caused a rift in his relationship with Gobert.
  • Despite the two saying publicly things were patched up, they weren't able to achieve any significant postseason success as their partnership on the court would be consistently scrutinized.
  • Three seasons later, both Gobert and Mitchell found themselves on different teams and head coach Quin Snyder had stepped down.

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