Coronavirus and the NBA: Why league suspended season & what may come next after Rudy Gobert's positive test

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver knew the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) could shut down the 2019-20 season, but even he probably didn't expect the situation to escalate this quickly.

In the middle of Wednesday night's slate of games, the NBA announced it would be suspending play indefinitely after a Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus. The shocking news coincided with reports indicating All-Star center Rudy Gobert was the NBA's patient zero.

MORE: NBA players react to league suspending season

The league's board of governors had reached a general agreement earlier Wednesday to continue playing games without fans in attendance, but that plan became unrealistic following Gobert's diagnosis. Now the NBA finds itself paralyzed by the pandemic with more questions than answers.

Here's how the NBA arrived at its decision and what could happen next with the season on hold.

What happened during the Jazz vs. Thunder game?

Only moments before the Jazz and Thunder were set to tip off around 8 p.m. ET in Oklahoma City, Thunder director of medical services Donnie Strack ran out to the court and spoke with the officiating crew. Referees then called over Jazz coach Quin Snyder and Thunder coach Billy Donovan to discuss the delay, and both Snyder and Donovan eventually parted ways and left the floor with their teams.

At about 8:40 p.m. ET, the Thunder's public address announcer told the OKC crowd the game had been postponed but added, "You are all safe."

Fans were able to leave Chesapeake Energy Arena following the announcement and did so without incident. Arena employees immediately began disinfecting team benches.

At 9:27 p.m. ET, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. Only minutes later, the NBA sent out an official statement saying the league would be suspending the season and using the hiatus to "determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic."

Jazz and Thunder players were kept quarantined in their locker rooms for a few hours. Thunder players were not tested for the coronavirus, according to ESPN's Royce Young, but they did have a fever test done before being sent home. Oklahoma health officials tested Jazz players for the coronavirus in the locker room, per Young.

Team buses for the Jazz appeared to finally leave the arena after 2 a.m. ET. It was unclear if all Jazz players were on those buses or whether they would be able to travel back to Utah together.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday morning that Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has also tested positive for the coronavirus. Mitchell was the only other Jazz player or personnel member to test positive for the virus, per Charania.

"As a follow-up to yesterday's positive COVID-19 test, Oklahoma health officials tested all members of the Utah Jazz traveling party, confirming one additional positive outcome for a Jazz player," a team statement released Thursday said. "We are working closely with the CDC, Oklahoma and Utah State officials, and the NBA to monitor their health and determine the best path moving forward."

Mitchell confirmed his test results with a post on Instagram.

"Thanks to everyone who has been reaching out since hearing the news about my positive test," Mitchell wrote. "We are all learning more about the seriousness of this situation and hopefully people can continue to educate themselves and realize that they need to behave responsibly both for their own health and for the well being of those around them.

"I appreciate the authorities in Oklahoma who were helpful with the testing process and everyone from the @utahjazz who have been so supportive. I am going to keep following the advice of our medical staff and hope that we can all come together and be there for each other and our neighbors who need our help."

What is Rudy Gobert's health status?

Gobert was listed as questionable (illness) for Wednesday's game on the NBA's 5:30 p.m. ET injury report. The Jazz center felt "strong and stable," according to The Athletic's Tony Jones and Charania, and he was hoping to play against the Thunder.

Instead, Gobert was held out of action and never entered the arena, though he was in Oklahoma City. The Jazz said in a team statement that a player (they didn't identify the player as Gobert) had "tested negative for influenza, strep throat and an upper respiratory infection" and a test for COVID-19 came back positive "right before tipoff" of the Jazz-Thunder game.

"We are working closely with the CDC, Oklahoma and Utah state officials and the NBA to determine how to best move forward as we gather more information," the statement read. "The individual is currently in the care of health officials in Oklahoma City. In coordination with the NBA and state officials, we will provide updates at the appropriate time."

Gobert is 27 years old and in peak physical condition, so the coronavirus doesn't pose the same health risks to him as those over age 60. He should be able to recover without any long-term issues, but the main concern is obviously how the virus could spread considering 34 different players have shared the floor with Gobert since Friday.

Gobert publicly addressed his positive coronavirus test in an Instagram post on Thursday, saying he has felt "fear, anxiety and embarrassment" since learning his diagnosis. He faced plenty of criticism for his flippant attitude toward the pandemic. Gobert jokingly touched the recorders and microphones of reporters days earlier, and he had reportedly been "careless in the locker room" about touching the belongings of other players, according to Wojnarowski

"I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of concern and support over the last 24 hours," Gobert wrote. "I have gone through so many emotions since learning of my diagnosis … mostly fear, anxiety, and embarrassment. The first and most important thing is I would like to publicly apologize to the people that I may have endangered. At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and make no excuse.

"I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously. I will do whatever I can to support using my experience as way to educate others and prevent the spread of this virus. I am under great care and will fully recover. Thank you again for all your support. I encourage everyone to take all of the steps to stay safe and healthy. Love."

How did the NBA respond?

In addition to the Jazz-Thunder game, the NBA announced the Pelicans-Kings game in Sacramento had been postponed because one of the referees, Courtney Kirkland, officiated a Jazz game earlier in the week.

Players from teams who faced the Jazz in the 10 days prior to Gobert's diagnosis (Cavaliers, Knicks, Celtics, Pistons, Raptors) were told to self-quarantine, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst. The Raptors told their players to self-quarantine for 14 days, per Charania.

Outside of the NBA, the G League has also suspended play for its 2019-20 season. 

How long will the NBA suspend the season?

It's unclear exactly how long the NBA will stay in its current holding pattern.

During Thursday night's special edition of the "NBA on TNT," Silver said the suspension of play will "most likely" last at least 30 days.

"We wanted to give direction to our players and teams and to our fans that this is gonna be roughly at least a month," Silver said. "But then the question becomes, is there a protocol, frankly, with or without fans in which we can resume play?"

Silver added that it is possible the 2019-20 season will simply not continue, but there is not enough information available to make that determination at this point.

For now, players will be limited by NBA policies and have to find a few non-basketball activities to fill their suddenly open schedules.

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