On March 11, the NBA announced it would be postponing its regular season until further notice amid concerns of COVID-19. The announcement was made the same day all-star Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus.
Leading up to the announcement, Gobert had been placed on the Jazz’s injury list with an “illness,” but no specifics were provided. He was not with the team the day the postponement was announced, as the Jazz was preparing to tip off at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City against the Thunder.
Following the announcement by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, other major sports leagues within the United States began to take similar measures — some even canceled the rest of their seasons entirely. Of the four major sports leagues within the United States, only one, the NFL, has continued with league operations, although revisions have been made with cancellations to spring OTAs (organized team activity workouts).
The firm stance and poise Silver displayed in his decision should not surprise anyone given tumultuous events like Donald Sterling’s racist outburst and Kobe Bryant’s death, which he has faced as head of one of the most popular sports leagues in the world.
“I wasn’t really surprised they were the first to suspend the season because it seemed they were the first, at least in America, to have players test positive for COVID-19,” said junior Kristen Luppino.
“I think it was a sad but good decision so that more players weren’t put at risk,” Luppino said.
Despite the measures taken by the NBA, other cases of COVID-19 were reported in franchises across the country, affecting notable players like Donovan Mitchell, Kevin Durant and Marcus Smart. According to cbssports.com, as of March 25, there are 14 cases of the virus across the league.
News on a possible resumption of the season has not been concrete given the unpredictable nature of the virus. Closures of team facilities and quarantines for players could possibly mean a drop in performance if the league were to return to play as well.
With the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics until next year, however, the NBA could possibly be able to resume play during the summer months without players being affected by national team commitments.
“I’m trying not to be too hopeful because there is a chance it won’t return this season but I am hoping for a return so players can finish out their season,” Luppino said.
“Especially for players like Vince Carter... this season is [his] last year playing. I hope the season returns so he can finish his career correctly and fully,” Luppino said.
Other leagues like the UFC have drawn criticism for continuing competition during uncertain times. The most notable scrutiny pertains to UFC 249 scheduled for April 19, and UFC President Dana White’s decision to continue the fight card headlined by lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson, in what some say is the biggest fight in UFC history.
"This is, in my opinion, the biggest lightweight fight of all time — one of the biggest UFC fights of all time," said senior Brian Garber.
“Basically, you have two of the best lightweight fighters of all time about to fight for the title."
On top of these two fighters being in the peak of their careers, the history between them amplifies the magnitude of the fight. Over the past four years, a bout between Khabib and Ferguson has been scheduled and canceled four times. Since Khabib holds the belt that was stripped from Ferguson due to injury, even more fuel is added to the scorching tensions between the two.
With limited events in the sports world taking place, along with the fact that people may be quarantined in their homes for the foreseeable future, pay per view purchase projections for the fight are showing staggeringly high numbers — something a businessman like White is fully aware of.
“I think Dana White realizes how big this fight is,” Garber said. “If they're going to make it happen, they're going to make it happen.”
As for the chances of the fight being postponed or canceled, Garber was unsure, but leaning toward the possibility it would be.
“I would say there's a 60% chance it's going to get postponed,” Garber said.
On March 23, White did announce UFC 249 will be a closed event with no fans in attendance. The fight, originally scheduled to happen at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, has been changed to a different location, though it has not been made public.