Georges Niang initially thought the Thunder backed out of a pivotal game. With rumors circulating that Rudy Gobert had coronavirus after he missed shootaround that morning. The team speculated, but still didn’t believe what happened.
Officials in suits darted out of the locker room after the national anthem and starting lineup announcements. Niang couldn’t believe it. Before a critical game between the four and five seeds in the western conference, he believed Oklahoma City used COVID as an excuse to not play. Instead, within moments, the entire NBA shut down for over three months.
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“Then they send us back to the locker room and I was like, this has never happened in the game of basketball for me,” Niang said. “So I knew this couldn’t be good.”
As the NBA prepares to return teams to their cities and outline a plan to resume play in one or two isolated cities, Niang joined Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman’s CLNS Media podcast to remember the day this shutdown began.
Niang described mayhem in the locker room when head coach Quin Snyder announced that Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. Jordan Clarkson had assumed as much when he heard his tests for other conditions like the flu returned negative. Niang and Bojan Bogdanovic stared at each other wondering if they had it.
“It was kind of like being trapped in your own mind,” he said. “We were stuck in that locker room for six hours. People were saying we’re going to get you to a hotel to get tested, but we know between us, what hotel is going to take 53 potential coronavirus hosts?”
The questions raced as phones rang repeatedly. Some phoned private jet companies. Finally, tests arrived before 2 a.m. and a Residence Inn took the team.
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When the morning arrived, each player texted the group chat to report negative results. Then Donovan Mitchell reported his own, the second positive test in the NBA.
The Jazz found a Delta flight for the morning to return to Salt Lake City for a 14 day quarantine. Since then, the league has thrown around ideas to safely return to play and appears primed to do so in July. The players union has played ball, but with lingering concerns abound reflected by the uncertainty and anxiety of that night where the crowd flooded out before tip-off.
Listen to the rest of Ryan and Goodman’s conversation with Niang here and subscribe to CLNS Media’s channel on Youtube and Dailymotion.