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.
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Salt Lake City stories

No stories could be found

Salt Lake Citypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Salt Lake City.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more