OKLAHOMA CITY — Cecilia Robinson-Woods watched the situation unfold Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena with dread.
After the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz was halted seconds before tip-off, the teams were ushered off the court. There was a delay, then a postponement, and while the reasons weren’t immediately known, everyone had a suspicion as to why.
Robinson-Woods, superintendent of Millwood Schools, is president of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association Board of Directors, and as soon as she saw what was happening in downtown Oklahoma City, she called the association’s executive director, David Jackson.
“This is gonna be rough,” she told him.
“That situation last night,” Robinson-Woods said Thursday as the OSSAA announced state tournaments were being suspended, “brought a different level of intensity to our situation.”
It brought a different level of intensity to every situation.
What happened Wednesday at that NBA game changed the way Americans think about coronavirus. Average Janes and Joes didn’t seem all that concerned about the pandemic before. Now, we see how close the danger is and how quickly the spread can happen.
The odd scenes that played out on Reno Avenue will be forever etched in our memories. A Thunder team doctor sprinting onto the court to talk to officials moments before tip-off. Players milling around their benches as referees talked with head coaches. Chris Paul waving over Jazz player Joe Ingles to ask what was wrong with his teammate Rudy Gobert.
Utah big man Gobert, as we now know, tested positive for the coronavirus and prompted the NBA to postpone the game.
It was the first of three big moments.
Thirty-seven minutes after the Thunder game was suspended, Tom Hanks announced on social media that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for coronavirus while in Australia. Hanks, of course, is a treasure in the entertainment world. An actor with few equals and many fans. A wholesome type who’s impossible to dislike.
Lots of folks would’ve thought Hanks couldn’t get coronavirus. Not Tom. Not America’s Dad.
But that’s not how coronavirus works. It can get to anyone.
Thirty-two minutes after the Hanks news, the NBA dropped an even bigger bombshell when it announced it was suspending the season. The league has said little publicly about what led to the decision, but the realizations that have surfaced since the news of Gobert’s positive test give us an inclination.
One infected player has touched nearly every corner of the NBA.
The Jazz played five teams since the first of the month: the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors. In the days after playing the Jazz, those teams played another eight teams: the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Thunder, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia Sixers.
That accounts for nearly half of the league’s teams.
And then, there were the gyms where the Jazz practiced while they were on the road and the planes they flew in and the hotels they stayed in. NBA teams often use the same gyms, planes and hotels.
Utah’s plane, for example, carried the Orlando Magic and the Memphis Grizzlies to games after the Jazz flew to Oklahoma City.
And the interconnectedness of the teams doesn’t begin to address the pilots, bus drivers, cleaners, waitresses, bellhops, ushers, security, media and fans who interact with players and coaches.
All of that was a lightbulb moment for many — the NBA is but a microcosm of how tightly knit our world has become.
And if the NBA, a multibillion-dollar industry, decided to shut it down during one of the most exciting times of the season, it must be a serious situation. It must be the real deal.
Medical professionals have been saying so for months. Ditto for scientists and epidemiologists and lots of folks who have done way more than look up “coronavirus” on WebMD. But we weren’t always listening to the experts.
Now, we are.