Mar 12, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

😷 Good morning. Yesterday was one of the craziest days in sports history, and given the fluidity of the situation, today will probably be just as surreal.

Today's word count: 1,466 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 The NBA suspends its season

Rudy Gobert. Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The NBA has suspended its season until further notice after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) prior to the Jazz-Thunder game last night in Oklahoma City.

Why it matters: The day began with news that the Warriors were barring fans from their arena and ended with the entire 2019-20 season in peril. The NBA has its patient zero.

How it happened: In a chilling scene, the Thunder's team doctor sprinted onto the court seconds before tip-off and pulled the referees aside. Players were then asked to return to the locker rooms, while fans were serenaded by Frankie J. Then the Thunder PA announcer took the mic:

"Due to unforeseen circumstances the game tonight has been postponed. You are all safe. ... Thank you for coming out tonight."

The entire Thunder team was reportedly tested and quarantined inside the arena, and considering a person with coronavirus can be asymptomatic for up to two weeks, their recent opponents will likely be treated similarly.

  • The Jazz were also tested and stayed the night in an Oklahoma City hotel. Pending the test results, they'll make plans to travel back to Salt Lake City, "which could include a positive test charter plane and a negative charter plane," per ESPN's Royce Young.

Elsewhere: There were four games being played when the NBA made its announcement. Those games were completed, while the Pelicans-Kings game scheduled for later in the evening was postponed.

  • Mark Cuban's reaction to the news was caught by ESPN's telecast. "This is crazy. This can't be true," said the Mavericks owner when asked what was going through his head. "This seems like more out of a movie than reality."

The big picture: This suspension could have substantial financial repercussions for the NBA depending on how long it lasts.

  • Weeks without ticket sales would affect league-wide revenues and future salary caps.
  • Hourly employees are now unable to come into work, which will likely require teams to put together programs to support them — something Cuban and the Mavericks are already working on.

What they're saying:

  • LeBron James: "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."
  • Vince Carter, fearing his career might be over: "Such a weird night but I am truly thankful for each and every person during this 22 year journey. If this is really it, I thank everyone for your love and support for all these years."
  • Stephen Curry: "2020 ain't it. 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!"

The bottom line: There will be no NBA games for at least two weeks as players and team personnel go through quarantine, but in reality it will likely be much longer than that.

  • For reference, when the virus broke out in China, the Chinese Basketball Association suspended play in late January. It plans to resume in early April, roughly a 10-week layoff.
2. 🏀 March Madness sans fans

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Amid what is now officially a pandemic, the NCAA made the unprecedented decision yesterday to prohibit spectators from attending all of its upcoming championships, including the men's and women's basketball tournaments.

Why it matters: March Madness, a cultural phenomenon and one of the biggest sporting events in America, will be played without the Madness of the crowd.

  • And, given what happened yesterday in the NBA, all games could realistically be postponed or even canceled in the coming days.


  • Early host cities: For now, the nine early venues (Dayton, Spokane, Sacramento, St. Louis, Omaha, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Albany, Greensboro) and four regional sites (Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis, New York) will host as planned, per NCAA president Mark Emmert.
  • Final Four venue: An NFL stadium with 250 people in it would be pretty cavernous, so Mercedes-Benz Stadium is almost certainly out. "There are a number of smaller options in the Atlanta area, with Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion (8,600) perhaps being the most ideal," writes SI's Pat Forde.
  • "Essential staff": The NCAA said it will allow essential staff and limited family attendance, but just who is essential and how many family members will be allowed through the doors remains unclear.
  • Tickets: All fully refunded.

What to watch: Now that the NBA has suspended play, the NCAA will face increased pressure to do the same — and will likely have no choice if and when a player tests positive.

  • Given the sheer number of college basketball teams, the chances of a player having contracted the virus feels high, and with conference tournaments currently underway, it could easily spread to other teams.
  • Most conferences have banned fans from their tournaments, but don't be surprised if there are cancellations in the coming days.

The bottom line: Earlier this week, there was a belief that the coronavirus might have a positive impact on March Madness, because overall interest and TV ratings would go up with so many Americans working from home or self-quarantining.

  • It is no longer responsible to view this pandemic as something that sports fans will simply wait out at home, perched conveniently in front of the TV.
  • Rather, it's time to start preparing for at least a few weeks of fan-less sports (if we're lucky) or no sports (if we're not).
3. 🇺🇸 The latest in the U.S.
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Other leagues:

  • 🏒 NHL: The league is "aware of the NBA's decision tonight to indefinitely suspend its season due to a player testing positive for the coronavirus. The NHL is continuing to consult with medical experts and is evaluating the options. We expect to have a further update tomorrow."
  • ⛳️ PGA Tour: The Players Championship began as scheduled this morning, with an autograph ban in place.
  • ⚾️ MLB: High-level executives are expected to hold a Friday phone call to discuss plans around potentially limiting fan access and pushing back Opening Day, per ESPN.
  • 🏈 NFL: With scouts and other team officials flying all over the country for pro days and private workouts, multiple teams have altered pre-draft travel plans.
  • ⚽️ MLS: Two matches have been postponed so far, both set for March 21: Sporting KC at the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas at the Seattle Sounders.
4. 🌍 The latest worldwide
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC.

President Trump announced from the Oval Office last night that all travel from Europe — excluding the U.K. — will be suspended for 30 days, beginning Friday.

  • There will be exemptions for Americans who undergo screening upon their return.

Go deeper.

5. 📉 Why being proactive matters
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

China and Korea show that it's possible not only to slow the spread of the virus, but to significantly decrease the number of new daily cases. Italy is the most worrying counterexample, writes Axios' Felix Salmon (sign up for his weekly newsletter, Axios Edge).

  • Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that the benefits of the country's current lockdown will not be seen for weeks.
6. ⚽️ Champions League under threat
Photo: Alberto Gandolfo/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

TURIN, Italy — Juventus defender Daniele Rugani has tested positive for COVID-19, which means a 14-day quarantine for him and his teammates and could lead to transformative changes in the European soccer schedule, including the Champions League, where Juventus was set to host Lyon next Tuesday.

Photo: UEFA via Getty Images

PARIS — Barred from entering the Parc de Princes Stadium, some 3,000 Paris Saint-Germain fans gathered outside to chant and light flares — defeating the purpose of the stadium closure in the first place.

Photo: UEFA via Getty Images

PARIS — Inside the empty stadium, Neymar scored an early goal and PSG beat Borussia Dortmund, 2-0, to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit and advance to the Champions Leagues quarterfinals for the first time since 2016.

Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside via Getty Images

LIVERPOOL, England — Liverpool's historic season is suddenly under a strange sort of scrutiny after being eliminated from the Champions League (they won last year) by Atlético Madrid, who scored three goals in extra time. Fans were present.

7. 📅 March 11, 2020: The day the sports stopped
Screenshot: @BryanDFischer (Twitter)

What a day.

8. 🔥 Olympic torch lit behind closed doors
Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece — "The Tokyo 2020 Olympics torch relay got under way on Thursday when the flame was lit by the rays of the sun in ancient Olympia in a scaled-down ceremony overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic." (Reuters)

9. 🏎 McLaren withdraws from Australian GP
Formula 1 driver Esteban Ocon wearing a mask during previews at the 2020 Australian Grand Prix. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia — McLaren Racing has withdrawn from this weekend's Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix following the positive test of a team member.

10. ⚽️ Finally, some good news

Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The USWNT won the 2020 SheBelieves Cup after defeating Japan, 3-1, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, last night.

  • The Americans conceded just a single goal across three victories over England, Spain and Japan and have now won three of the first five SheBelieves Cups (France won in 2017 and England won last year).

🎥 Highlights:

The backdrop: In court documents made public earlier this week, the U.S. Soccer Federation argued that the USWNT players have less "skill" than the USMNT players, essentially because they are women.

  • In response, the USWNT emerged from the tunnel last night with their jerseys inside-out, hiding the U.S. Soccer crest, but leaving visible the four stars — one for each FIFA World Cup title.
Screenshot: @itsmeglinehan (Twitter)

Go deeper: U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro must resign (SI)

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "What is happening" Baker