NEW YORK – Shut it down, NBA.
Shut it down. The whole thing. Not games played in front of fans. Games played at all.
Coronavirus is officially a global pandemic, per the World Health Organization. It has spread to over 100 countries with well over 100,000 people infected. More than 4,000 have died.
Cases in the U.S. are growing by the hour. Local governments all across the country are declaring a State of Emergency. Festivals like South by Southwest have been cancelled. College tournaments are being scrubbed. The NCAA’s advisory panel has recommended sporting events be closed to the public. The NBA is already faced with having to play games in empty arenas. The Warriors, in consultation with San Francisco officials, have already announced that Wednesday’s game against the Nets will be played without fans in attendance.
Ohio officials have reportedly advised the Cavaliers not to play in front fans. That could soon become an order.
D.C. is recommending that mass gatherings—defined as events of 1,000 or more people—be postponed.
Pennsylvania could be trending in that direction.
Experts agree: This gets worse before it gets better. And large gatherings in enclose spaces—where people cough or sneeze and touch surfaces where people coughed or sneezed—can turn an NBA arena into a petri dish. Even if the older, more high risk fans stay home, what’s to say the son or daughter of an older, high risk fan doesn’t interact with them and pass a potentially deadly virus on?
Emptying arenas doesn’t fully address the NBA’s nightmare scenario, either: A player contracting the virus. Emptying arenas probably lowers the chances, but players don’t interact with fans much anyway. Outside the arena, who knows who they are interacting with? Who knows what friends or family members may have been infected?
If a player is infected, then what? His whole team would have to be quarantined. But what about the team he just played against? A person with coronavirus could be asymptomatic for as long as two weeks. Does every team the player played against in the previous two weeks have to be tested and quarantined? What about someone on the coaching staff? Or training staff?
Team medical staffs are already bracing for the virus to infect someone in the locker room, with several team officials describing that type of situation as inevitable.
There’s an argument that suspending play is an overreaction, that the vast majority of people who get coronavirus make a full recovery. There’s an argument, parroted by the politically motivated, that for most Covid-19 is as dangerous as the flu. But coronavirus has a mortality rate that dwarfs the flu. Our oldest and most vulnerable are being hit the hardest.
There are financial ramifications, sure. Rick Welts, the Warriors COO, says the team will lose millions with the decision to shut out fans for Wednesday’s game. More importantly: Workers, thousands of them, will go without paychecks. A lot of people make money off the NBA, most who need it more than team owners do. NBA officials are keenly aware of the impact games have on the financial health of others.
But this is a crisis, an uncontained and to this point largely uncontrollable pandemic. Being proactive is fiscally painful, but it pales in comparison to what could happen if the league has to react to something worse. The NBA isn’t ruling any path forward out, several team and league officials told SI.com, though the priority is to find a way to safely finish the season. The league is smartly relying on its medical experts and taking cues from local officials. But no one knows how this is going to play out.
Shut it down, NBA. Shut it down now.