1. Ryan Ruocco, Doris Burke and Tom Rinaldi were calling the Nuggets-Mavericks game on ESPN on Wednesday night when a one-two punch of news came down like we haven't seen before. The NBA was postponing its season, and Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Mark Cuban's reaction to the news was caught live, and he told the whole story about the current state of the league.
Ruocco and Burke navigated calling the action while giving viewers breaking news and bouncing back and forth with Scott Van Pelt in the SportsCenter studio. This is what ESPN does best, and everyone involved in Wednesday night's efforts did a tremendous job offering the right tone and balanced reactions.
I spoke with Ruocco this morning about what the night was like for him.
SI: Give me your overall of sense of what last night was like for you?
Ruocco: Doris and I, going into the game, we're already talking about how eerie it was and how it felt like this was going to be our last night with normal basketball for a while. Just watching the way things have played out in other places—and I've been following a little more closely because I have an upcoming wedding in June, so we'll see if that has to get altered at all, so I followed what's going on in Italy pretty closely—so I think we have known at some point the hand would be forced. You kind of see the natural progression of these things, and it already felt like we were on the brink.
It was surreal to have that huge domino fall while we were on the air. I thought our producer, Ian Grucka, just did a great job of keeping us apprised of what was breaking, not immediately reacting to news until it was confirmed and then telling us at the appropriate times and helping steer us through it. And you just go into a different mode, right? The game is still there and you're gonna go in and out of calling action, but it's all of a sudden a different context than normal, and I think it was great and so vital that we had Scott Van Pelt in the studio, because he's such a calm professional and he was the perfect voice to guide us in and out of the broadcast as we went back and forth.
SI: What was the vibe in the building when the news came out that the NBA was postponing the season?
RR: It was definitely odd, and you could feel this change. You saw the shot we had of Mark Cuban and his reaction to the news. That will be the shot from last night. Just this this incredibly aghast, stunned expression. And I think what happened, I think in the beginning, it was like eerie, total shock, game feels odd being played, inconsequential. And then at some point there seemed to be this energy, maybe from the crowd as well as the players and even a little bit into the broadcast at the end, like, "Hey, let's enjoy or lose ourselves in the last few minutes of action here because it may be the last time for a while." I think you saw that shift in urgency from the guys on the floor, too. "I'm gonna pour my emotion into this because I know that I'm not gonna get to do this for a while."
SI: You've called a ton of games with Doris. How important it was it having Doris calling the game with you last night instead of someone you might not work with as much?
RR: I think it makes a big difference having her next to me because we're genuinely good, close friends and care about each other and each other's family and we sort of vibrate on the same emotional frequency. So in a moment like last night, I just knew we'd be in lockstep when it came to the sentiment. We both have the same incredible passion for the league. We love the league. We both really treasure relationships and life in general. We have comfort with each other. We always say when we do games together, it feels easy, which I'm sure everybody who works with Doris Burke can say that. She's incredible. She was like the perfect, comforting partner to have next to you as you try to steer through a wild and strange night.
SI: Strangest game you've ever called, I assume?
RR: Yeah. We all call strange names at different times with weird circumstances comebacks, injuries, things that sort of break up the daily routine, and it happens often enough because it's sports and it's unscripted. This one obviously fell in a totally different category because it felt like you were trying to calmly deliver news and perspective and access the incredible wisdom and perspective that I had around me in Doris and Tom. They were the perfect parters for last night, while also sprinkling in some of the game action and trying to find that balance. We all know when you go on the air and you're live, things can shift at any moment. It's just a matter of trying to navigate whatever terrain that may come up. Last night just happened to be the most unique any of us have ever experienced.
SI: Were you ever nervous about being in a building with that many people?
RR: No. I've thought about it over the last couple of days. I'm a germaphobe anyway. And I've been diligent about washing my hands, hand sanitizer, not touching my face, not eating with my hands at all. I didn't worry about it as far as being in the building because I just thought of it more in the context of the people I'm gonna be around while I'm broadcasting, whatever it is, 10-15 people you come into contact with. I've thought about it more so in the context of traveling a ton right now. That not being ideal and knowing that it was going to come to an end in the very near future. I was supposed to be on right now a nine-day trip that had several Nets games, a couple of ESPN games, as well as coming back to Tampa for some Yankees, but I told my fiancé the other night that I feel very confident this trip wasn't going to happen and I just hope I don't get stuck wherever I am.
2. If you read Traina Thoughts, you already know what I think of Good Morning Football's Kyle Brandt. This is some of his finest work yet.
3. I taped this week's SI Media Podcast on Wednesday afternoon before it was announced that the NCAA tournament would be played without fans in the arena and before the NBA postponed its season.
Washington Post sports media reporter Ben Strauss joined me to talk about coronavirus's impact on sports, the Al Michaels–Peyton Manning dream that is no more for ESPN, what ESPN does next for Monday Night Football, XFL ratings, The Athletic and more.
4. If you want a little taste of what a sports entertainment event in an empty building looks like, here's a lock back at when the Rock wrestled Mankind in 1999 in an empty arena during halftime of the Super Bowl.
5. Just a couple of quick tips as we try to get through this time:
• If you see something wild on Twitter, make sure the account you're looking at has a blue check mark before you text the news to all your friends.
• Please get your news in other places besides Twitter.
• You don't have to tweet every single coronavirus thought that comes into your head.
• If you're on Twitter all day trying to get coronavirus news, please stop.
6. RANDOM YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE DAY: Get well soon, Tom Hanks.