Facebook Twitter

Utah Jazz’s experience with coronavirus proves how quickly life can change

SHARE Utah Jazz’s experience with coronavirus proves how quickly life can change

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder meets with Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan and officials before before an NBA basketball game was postponed in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman via AP

SALT LAKE CITY — As we all now know, things can change in an instant, a lesson that the Utah Jazz learned in a very short amount of time less than two weeks ago.

Just before noon on March 11, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell sat in front of reporters in a meeting room at the team hotel following the morning’s shootaround, and talked about the importance of that night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“It’s easy to give the generic answer of ‘it’s just another game’ but we understand the importance of it, I think both teams do,” Mitchell said of a game that had playoff seeding implications.

Little did he know that in less than eight hours the game would be cancelled, the NBA season postponed, the next morning he would learn he had tested positive for the coronavirus, and what would happen at Chesapeake Energy Arena would become the tipping point for the postponement and suspension of most major and collegiate sporting events.

Mitchell went on to say that he was looking forward to the ovation former Jazz man Derrick Favors would receive when the New Orleans Pelicans visited Vivint Smart Home Arena two days later, a game that would be forgotten with the NBA’s suspension.

A few minutes later, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder met in the same room with reporters, and talked about how the team was dealing with growing reports of the spread of the coronavirus.

“We started talking about it a while ago and have gradually continued to educate and plan and establish protocols,” Snyder said. “The advantage to doing that is that when you have all those things in place then you’re able to focus on the things that you can control.”

Unfortunately, the situation that the Jazz found themselves in hours later was completely out of their control, and was an emblematic snapshot of how quickly things can change.

Speaking on The Upside, a podcast hosted by ESPN’s Adam Finkelstein, Jazz forward Georges Niang said that when the game was stalled just before tipoff that night, he knew it had something to do with the virus.

“There’s just like a pause, you know an uncommonly long pause where people are standing by the scorer’s table,” Niang said. “We all knew Rudy [Gobert] was sick and he had been tested for it, so you kind of figured it had something to do with that.”

Thinking that Gobert’s COVID-19 test results had not yet come in, he thought that the Thunder had caught word of Gobert being tested and that they didn’t want to play against the Jazz out of fear of possible transmission.

Later in the locker room the team was told that Gobert’s COVID-19 test was positive and that they were going to be tested and wouldn’t be leaving the arena any time soon.

From there it was a flurry of masks, gloves, uncertainty, and confusion.

Not only were the Jazz players worried about their health and the health and safety of their teammates but they also didn’t know if they were going to be able to leave the arena at all.

The team had planned to take their chartered flight back to Utah after the game but with the flight time missed, they would have to find accommodations in Oklahoma City, which proved to be easier said than done.

“Anybody that has just seen the news is not about to let 53 exposed people to the coronavirus come into their hotel. No hotels are picking up our phone calls, we’re trying to figure out if we can fly back. ... It was just a lot of emotions and stress.” — Jazz forward Georges Niang

The Jazz eventually found a hotel that would take on their traveling party, the next morning a flight time and crew who were willing to take the team back to Utah were secured, and the team began their individual quarantines.

Now, just 11 days after thinking games and life could go on as scheduled and that the Jazz would be playing against a potential playoff opponent, the Jazz players, Niang included, are urging people to take the spread of COVID-19 seriously — another reminder of how quickly things have changed.

“Please follow instructions,” Niang said. “This is bigger than you, and the people close to you. This is a pandemic and the world is affected by this and if you can take any small step to make this community and world a better place, please do so. First and foremost, stay away from other people.”