Hours passed, and inside the Jazz locker room on Wednesday night players, coaches and staffers wondered: When was this going to end? Rudy Gobert, Utah’s All-Star center, had tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus, and the team had been ordered to remain in the cramped quarters of the visiting locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Inside, players scrolled social media, reading of the NBA’s decision to suspend the season in real time. Team personnel scrambled to find lodging for the night.
The NBA is officially on hiatus, and no one knows when the league will return. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday the break will last at least a month, though any timeline will remain fluid. Members of the Raptors traveling party have been tested for coronavirus—Toronto played the Jazz on March 9 and, after medical officials back traced Gobert’s symptoms, the Raptors have been identified as the opponent that faced the most significant risk of infection, officials familiar with the situation told SI.com—while players and coaches across the league have been quarantined.
There are many questions the league will face if the season can be resumed. Officially, there is nearly a quarter of the regular season left—will all games be rescheduled, or will the league attempt an abbreviated season? Will the playoffs be shortened, or will the NBA push the postseason deep in July?
On the court, no one knows how the hiatus will affect the product. Will the 76ers be more formidable with injured All-Star Ben Simmons having a month or more to recover from a back injury? Will the Lakers, who had been playing the best basketball of the season, be able to regain that momentum?
And what about Utah?
Just two players—Gobert and Donovan Mitchell—tested positive for coronavirus. Gobert, who only reported symptoms when Utah arrived in Oklahoma City, sources told SI.com, and Mitchell are close, All-Stars who have been teammates since 2018. Oklahoma state health officials acted swiftly after learning of the positive test, the first in Oklahoma City. State officials ordered the testing of all members of the Jazz traveling party, sources say, in an effort to back trace the movements of anyone who tests positive to determine where the infection may have spread.
Gobert publicly apologized for his “careless” behavior in the days before his diagnosis, which included touching the digital recorders of reporters who had placed them in front of Gobert after an interview and reportedly making light of the issue inside the locker room. Mitchell is “extremely frustrated” with Gobert, league sources told SI.com. In an Instagram post, Mitchell said of coronavirus “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.”
How Mitchell responds when play resumes could make or break their relationship, sources familiar with the locker room dynamic told SI.com. Backstopped by Gobert and Mitchell, the Jazz have an enviable young core. The recent resurgence of Mike Conley had helped push Utah—41-23 before the season was suspended—back into the top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket. Royce O’Neale’s insertion into the starting lineup had buoyed the defense and Conley’s shooting—including the six three’s he made in a road win over Boston—has at least opened the door to the possibility that the Jazz could live up to some lofty preseason expectations.
A fissure in the locker room could derail that. NBA teams have a lot to figure out in the coming months, the Jazz included. But Gobert’s admitted recklessness adds another layer of problems for Utah, problems that could certainly linger.