Wednesday night saw the COVID-19 pandemic officially hit the NBA when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, causing the Jazz’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder to be postponed. A short time later, the NBA suspended its season.
What does it mean and how will this affect the sport moving forward? Here’s an FAQ to help explain where things stand and where they might be headed.
What will happen to the teams in Oklahoma City?
It is unclear. After the game was postponed, members of both teams — as well as some media members — were waiting to be tested for the coronavirus. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported late Wednesday night that the Jazz will be, at least for now, quarantined in Oklahoma City. Some COVID-19 tests currently in use can take days to come back. ESPN’s Royce Young reported Oklahoma City’s players were not tested and sent home.
At least some players from teams who played against the Jazz in recent days — the Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers — are being told to self-quarantine. Some players and coaches from those teams were also scrambling to be tested as early as Wednesday night after learning of Gobert’s diagnosis, league sources said.
It doesn’t end there. Recent opponents of the Jazz have also played other teams. There have been more than a dozen referees who have worked Jazz games over the past week and gone on to officiate other games. By late Wednesday night, players who’d come in contact with the Jazz were seeking tests for the virus, sources said.
Tests are hard to get in some places; how are the players being tested so fast?
Over the past week, the league office advised teams to work with health providers to make testing available to its players and visiting teams. Last weekend, the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry was tested for COVID-19 after he came down with flu-like symptoms in San Francisco and the test came back negative.
How long will the suspension last?
The regular-season stoppage will be at least two weeks so all players affected can go through quarantine and, one hopes, be cleared of the virus. In reality, it probably will be longer. By comparison, when the virus broke out in China, the Chinese Basketball Association suspended play in late January. The CBA is in the process of resuming play in early April, roughly a 10-week layoff.
What will NBA teams do in the meantime?
That is unclear. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Wednesday night that the league had said teams could continue to practice. However, that might not be practical if there was widespread self-quarantine in the short term.
Will the players be paid?
Almost certainly yes. It is in everyone’s interest for the league to continue playing at some later date to allow both the NBA and its players to finish the season and make the money the league normally would have been expected to.
There is, however, a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that would allow for the league to not pay players for missed games during extreme events, including an epidemic.
Per ESPN’s Bobby Marks:
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Article XXXIX, section 5, players lose 1/92.6 of their salary for every game missed as a result of a Force Majeure Event (“FME”) — this refers to events or conditions that makes it impossible for the NBA to perform its obligation under the CBA.
The following events are covered: “wars or war-like action (whether actual or threatened and whether conventional or other, including, but not limited to, chemical or biological wars or war-like action); sabotage, terrorism or threats of sabotage or terrorism; explosions; epidemics; weather or natural disasters, including, but not limited to, fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, storms or earthquakes; and any governmental order or action (civil or military); provided, however, that none of the foregoing enumerated events or conditions is within the reasonable control of the NBA or an NBA Team.”
The financial cost is a big reason there is the expectation, according to sources, that the current season will resume at a later date, even if that means the 2020-21 season starts later than expected.
LISTEN: The Hoop Collective podcast on suspending the NBA season
What is the impact of the salary cap in the future?
The first question to answer is, will the season resume at some point? If so, will teams play the full complement of remaining games or an abbreviated schedule?
Any reduction of basketball-related income (BRI) for the season would directly affect the salary cap and luxury tax for next season. A scenario in which the remainder of the regular-season schedule were played without fans could cost the league an estimated $500 million in BRI, even before the playoffs.
Remember, we have already seen the cap drop from $116 million to $115 million in 2020-21 as a result of a projected reduction of $200 million or more in revenue from China.
If the season resumes at some point with fans allowed to attend, the potential financial losses would be eliminated or mitigated significantly.
— Bobby Marks
What is the plan now?
No one knows. The teams were in the process of developing multiple plans in recent days before Gobert’s positive test. That planning will continue.