The NBA has suspended its season "until further notice" after a player on the Utah Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus, the league announced Wednesday night.
"The test result was reported shortly prior to the tip-off of tonight's game between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder and Chesapeake Energy Arena. At that time, tonight's game was canceled. The affected player was not in the arena," the league stated. "The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight's schedule of games until further notice. The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic."
The decision was so sudden that even after it was made, an already-underway game between the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets continued to be played.
Earlier Wednesday, a game between the Jazz and Thunder in Oklahoma City was suddenly postponed right before tip-off “due to unforeseen circumstances,” an announcer said at the time, prompting cries from the crowd.
“You are all safe. Take your time in leaving the arena,” the Thunder's PA continued.
ESPN reported that the game was moments away from starting when the Thunder's head medical staffer ran onto the floor to talk to the referees. Then, both teams were sent back to the locker rooms.
Reports soon circulated that one of the Jazz's All-Star players, Rudy Gobert, had tested positive for the virus. In a tweet hours before the game, the team said that "Rudy & Emmanuel [Mudiay] have both been ruled out (illness) for tonight's game."
Major sports leagues have been suspending or limiting games and events to stymie the spread of the virus. Over the weekend, the NBA limited media access to players in locker rooms. The National Collegiate Athletic Association also announced Wednesday that it was closing off its March Madness events to the public, limiting them only to essential staff and some family members.
Some players had laughed off the severity of the restrictions, including Gobert, who jokingly touched all the mics in front of him during a press conference after a shoot out on Monday.
In a statement after the NBA made its decision, the Utah Jazz said that one of its players earlier in the day tested negative for other illnesses, such as the flu, strep throat, and an upper respiratory infection.
"The individual's symptoms diminished over the course of today, 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," the team said. "A preliminary positive result came back right before tip-off of the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City game. Subsequently, the decision was correctly made by the NBA to postpone the game."
The Jazz said that when it decided to test its player, it "immediately informed the league office." The team said the individual is currently "in the care of health officials in Oklahoma City" and that it is working closely with the CDC and other agencies "to determine how best to move forward as we gather more information."
On Thursday morning, ESPN reported that the Jazz's other All-Star, Donovan Mitchell, had also tested positive for the virus.
The Utah Jazz said in a statement soon after that report that only one additional player had tested positive.
Before officials announced on Wednesday that the Thunder–Jazz game was officially off, stunned fans waited in their seats. When they were told to leave, spectators told media that they had no idea what had happened or why they were kicked out of the stadium.
The sudden announcement sent shockwaves across the internet and the league. Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, nearly jumped out of his seat at his team's game the moment he found out that the league had suspended the season.
In an interview with ESPN during the game broadcast, he said he was completely taken aback.
"It can't be true," Cuban said. "I mean, it's not within the realm of possibilities. It just seemed more like out of a movie than reality."
Like many people, Cuban expressed his disbelief at the ripple effects that the virus has had on nearly every industry.
"It's not about the team. It's about the country and life in general," he said.
The Mavericks game against the Nuggets ended up being the last game to finish before the suspension began: A scheduled Sacramento Kings home game against the New Orleans Pelicans was postponed just before tip-off at 10:30 p.m. ET.
It's still not known if anyone else on the Jazz, or anyone else in the NBA, has the coronavirus.
The Jazz recently finished a multigame road trip that began last Monday, playing in Cleveland, New York, Boston, and Detroit, before playing the Toronto Raptors at home in Salt Lake City on Monday. The NBA is reportedly expected to begin more player testing soon.