Just as Wednesday’s Oklahoma City Thunder-Utah Jazz game was about to get under way, officials left the centre of the court to huddle at the scorer’s table.
A few minutes later, an announcement was made to the full house that the game had been postponed due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
Nobody needed to say anything about coronavirus. It was later revealed that Utah star Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the virus.
Less than an hour after that, the NBA announced its season had been postponed.
The NHL said it would respond to the NBA’s decision on Thursday. Major League Baseball had no reaction. But there’s only one way this ends up. Where the NBA goes, everyone else must follow.
The spread of COVID-19 has cut short the 2019-20 season, and will probably do so to every other major event scheduled for 2020.
So, for now, that’s the end of sports in North America.
Way back on Tuesday, someone asked Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly if players were discussing the virus. That was back when the issue in sports was whether or not the media was allowed access to dressing rooms.
Rielly cracked a smile and said, “Oh yeah.” People laughed. The next question was about his return from injury, and then the Leafs’ chances against Tampa Bay.
It seems an awful long time ago.
If the NBA goes, the NHL goes. If the NHL goes, MLB goes. Every league in Europe and Asia is already done or close to it. That means the two big events of summer – Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics – are done.
Earlier on Wednesday, Japanese organizers were trying to hang on. When it was suggested that the Olympics might be postponed, the head of the Tokyo Games called the idea “outlandish.”
That position will not be tenable by the weekend.
It may take a bit to sort things out, but everything’s getting cancelled. That’s inevitable.
So what now?
We concede that we are in it in a way most of us have never known. We prepare for an experience that is without precedent in modern times.
We acknowledge that while sports are not important, the core value of them – that everyone pulls together for a common cause – is.
The results of sports don’t matter. Not in any substantial way. But sports matter. They are training for life. However good you are at passing or catching or throwing – and most of us are average, at best – we remember how it feels to be on a team.
When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title.
A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.
That was a long night. The city had stopped working. The streets were jammed. The streetcars couldn’t get by. You had to walk home.
Everyone was out. A lot of them were losing their minds from pure joy.
I headed along King Street, high-fiving random passers-by every few yards. When I got home – very late – a neighbour was on his stoop. We spent a lovely couple of hours reminiscing about the game.
Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.
Pro athletes like to talk about adversity. It is a cliché of the genre. That the boys will be okay if they all pull together, try their best and watch out for one another.
We’ve grown bored of hearing them talk this way, but they mean it. They actually believe this stuff.
The pros may make a ton of money, but they are children in their hearts. They have faith.
Now that they are all about to be done working for the foreseeable future, it’s time for the rest of us to assume their attitude and their clichés.
For the next little while (and let’s hope it’s just a little), we’re all in it together. We only go as far as the team takes us. We have to take care of each other.
Even if sports is gone, the soul of sports must continue.