OKLAHOMA CITY — Wednesday’s Oklahoma City Thunder–Utah Jazz game at Chesapeake Energy Arena was postponed before tipoff after a player tested positive for the coronavirus, the NBA said in a statement.
The player is the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The NBA said in a statement that the player’s test result was reported shortly before tipoff. The league said the player wasn’t in the arena.
The Jazz said in a statement that 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.”
Utah also said that it “immediately informed the league office” when it was determined the player needed to be tested.
“The individual is currently in the care of health officials in Oklahoma City,” the team said.
Players the Jazz have faced within the past 10 days are being told to self-quarantine, a source told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. During that time period, Utah has played the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors.
With literal seconds before the ball went up, Thunder director of medical services Donnie Strack came sprinting onto the court to call a huddle with the game’s three officials.
On the floor, players from the Thunder and Jazz went through some final stretches and elbow bumps as the standard pregame hype song by Zombie Nation was coming to an end. Thunder assistant general manager Rob Hennigan arrived to the huddle to speak with the referees. The players were still walking around, confused and curious. Thunder guard Chris Paul approached the Utah bench and asked, “What’s wrong with Rudy?” The Jazz players told Paul to move away.
A few moments later, the three referees called over head coaches Quin Snyder and Billy Donovan. Zombie Nation’s song started a second loop. It’s customary in OKC to stand until the first basket by the Thunder is made, and the fans were still standing, clapping along to the song.
Donovan and Snyder nodded their heads and signaled to their teams to start leaving the floor. Jazz forward Joe Ingles waved to the fans as if saying goodbye. The music stopped.
Referee Ben Taylor approached the scoring table to say he was being told by the league to delay the start of the game but had no idea why. As the players disappeared into their tunnels, an announcement came from the public-address announcer saying the game was being delayed.
At that point, no one knew the situation that was unfolding. With circumstances surrounding the coronavirus outbreak escalating, so much that NBA teams were preparing to play games without fans starting on Thursday, common sense said it was probably related to the virus. The arena emptied without any chaos or panic.
Both teams huddled into their locker rooms. Doors to the hallway leading to them were shut. No one was allowed in or out. On the court, the night’s halftime act took the floor to entertain fans. About 10 minutes later, the call came down from the league: The game was officially postponed. An announcement was made over the PA system, with an assurance — twice — that everyone in the arena was safe. Arena workers hurried to clear courtside seating and began disinfecting chairs, benches, handrails, concrete steps and footrests.
Minutes later, word broke that Gobert had tested positive. The league’s season was suspended moments after that. The Thunder and Jazz, quarantined in their locker rooms, were now forced to play a waiting game.
Gobert was questionable to play some 30 minutes prior to tipoff. Though he was in Oklahoma City at the team’s hotel, Gobert was not at the arena, and wasn’t there that morning, either, for the team’s shootaround. With official lineups due, Gobert was ruled out about 15 minutes before tipoff.
Thunder players were lined up and given a fever test on their cheeks. Taking their cues from the league and state health officials, they were instructed to report any symptoms and self-quarantine for 24 hours, but were not tested for the virus. Many staffers went to stay at hotels in the city.
In the Jazz locker room, the shock of Gobert’s positive test was sinking in. As the news burst across the world of the stunning NBA postponement, players sat at their lockers, with medical gloves and masks on, waiting for health officials to arrive and give them the virus test. It was more than three hours after the cancellation of the game; a black curtain shut the tunnel leading to the Jazz locker room and officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gathered to discuss their plan. Another 30 minutes passed before they stepped foot into the Jazz locker room to individually swab each player’s cheek.
NBA security was tested next. The game’s referees met with health officials in the media dining area for a debriefing. The loading dock area where players enter the arena was sanitized, with workers wiping down metal detectors and the bowls that their phones and keys go in.
Thunder players had left well before, going out the back of the arena. But some five hours after Strack had initially rushed onto the court to set in motion the events that would eventually put the NBA season on hiatus, Jazz players were in their locker room. At the team hotel, other team personnel were still being tested, with two other members of the traveling party not feeling well. All three were being asked to stay in their hotel rooms.
At the arena, wearing blue medical gloves on their hands, Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson emerged briefly to talk on the court, but quickly returned to the locker room. The results of the test would take up to four hours to come back, with next steps to be determined from there.
Arrangements were being made for the Jazz to spend the night in the area. There were issues with putting the team back on a Delta charter flight, so the possibility of chartering buses to take them back to Salt Lake was being explored.
Well past midnight, health officials roamed the halls of Chesapeake Energy Arena, going back and forth from the locker room with zipped bags in their hands. Two buses in the loading dock fired up and idled at 12:30 a.m., humming quietly on the other side of large overhead doors.
And in the locker room, the Utah Jazz waited.