• Villanova Sports Law Blog

Rudy Gobert Blocks the NBA Season: A Blessing in Disguise

By: Ian Daniels

An NBA game in early March between the Thunder and Jazz would normally be a less-than-memorable event. Unbeknownst to anyone watching, the events surrounding the game on Tuesday, March 11th would be a piece of what set into motion the complete shutdown of the sports world. Just seconds before tip-off, a Jazz athletic trainer ran out to the floor of the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City to tell the coaching staff that Rudy Gobert had been diagnosed with Coronavirus. [1] As Thunder point guard Chris Paul was asking the referees what was wrong with Rudy, everyone watching had to sit and wonder what the delay was. Moments later both teams jogged off into the locker room, and the game was suspended. [2]

Only a few hours later, a statement was released that the entire NBA season was now on hold until further notice. [3] Rudy Gobert, like many others, didn’t take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. The Utah Jazz center ended his press conference on March 9th by touching every microphone and tape recorder on the table before leaving for the locker room. [4] While it’s impossible to know if it was that actual cause of the virus spreading across the NBA, Gobert’s act was one of the catalysts that set into motion the sports world shutting down. By Friday, March 13th, games from the English Premier League to the XFL were postponed. This included college basketball conference tournaments, a suspension of the MLB season, and the NHL postponing the remainder of its season. While this cannot all be attributed to Gobert (Juventus defender Daniele Rugani had tested positive early that Wednesday), the NBA’s swift action can certainly be cited as a starting point for American sports taking precautions to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus to their players, staff, and fans. [5]

Within a week of Gobert’s diagnosis, multiple NBA players, including his teammate Donovan Mitchell, had tested positive for the virus. By March 30th, almost every sporting event imaginable had been cancelled worldwide. This included golf tournaments, professional wrestling, and even the Olympics. Most of these cancellations followed a declaration of national emergency and the Center for Disease Control strongly suggesting the cancellation of all events in which fifty or more people would be in attendance. By the end of March, countless members of the sports community had been diagnosed, and more are to be expected. However, this sadly does not come as a surprise. [6] Travel and human interaction are inherent to sports, and as the world neglected to treat the spread of a global disease with the severity it warranted, thousands of people were exposed prior to any precautions being taken. Based solely on the nature of sports, it was only a matter of time before players and leagues were affected by such a contagious outbreak.

Luckily, the world’s major sports leagues have done their part by suspending play indefinitely. [7] Rudy Gobert even posted an apology, wishing he had taken things much more seriously. [8] All of this obviously cannot be blamed on him. He admittedly made a huge mistake, endangering countless others, but it sparked a reaction so global that it realistically may have saved millions from being infected. The reaction by leagues across the globe is absolutely for the best, and it really is partially because of Gobert.

The crashing halt of the sports industry does have its downsides, however. With no more games, the employees of the venues who house them are out of a job and likely out of a paycheck. [9] The economic repercussions of the vital precautions being adhered to are not to be taken lightly. These people are among the millions who can no longer work if their employment is not specified as an essential industry by their respective governments. [10] But the comradery of sports continues to be a beacon for those who are dealing with the world’s uncertainties. Athletes everywhere are banding together to donate money to ensure the stadium and arena employees out of job during the COVID-19 pandemic can continue to collect a paycheck. NBA stars like Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Zion Williamson are donating hundreds of thousands of dollars so the people who work so hard to keep our sporting events up and running do not have to worry about the fiscal uncertainty that comes with such a catastrophe. [11] Internationally, Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona players are taking seventy percent pay cuts to ensure stadium workers can continue to support their families. [12]

Just when people seem to need them most, sports continues to be there for the people of the world. The seemingly unending but necessary quarantine across the world to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is being made just a little bit easier by the sports we love. ESPN has begun to play classic games from decades past to keep those at home entertained and show a new generation the greats that came before. [13] The NBA has released a catalog of on-demand classic games on their website and app for free as well. While these circumstances are obviously tragic, the sports world is still doing its best to be our escape. As I write this, there are almost 240,000 confirmed cases in United States. [14] The gravity of this situation still is hard to fathom, and it cannot be overstated how seriously we all should be taking it. Please, stay safe and stay home if you can.


[1] Tyler Conway, Jazz vs. Thunder, Pelicans vs. Kings Postponed After Positive Coronavirus Test, Bleacher Report, (March 11, 2020), https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2880453-jazz-vs-thunder-in-oklahoma-city-postponed-due-to-unforeseen-circumstances

[2] Megan Armstrong, Jazz Remain Quarantined in Oklahoma City Following Positive Coronavirus Test, Bleacher Report, (March 12, 2020), https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2880480-jazz-remain-quarantined-in-oklahoma-city-following-positive-coronavirus-test

[3] James Herbert, Coronavirus: What to know as NBA suspends season after Rudy Gobert tests positive for COVID-19, CBS Sports, (March 12, 2020), https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/coronavirus-what-to-know-as-nba-suspends-season-after-rudy-gobert-tests-positive-for-covid-19/

[4] Sam Quinn, Rudy Gobert touched every microphone at Jazz media availability Monday, now reportedly has coronavirus, CBS Sports, (March 12, 2020), https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/rudy-gobert-touched-every-microphone-at-jazz-media-availability-monday-now-reportedly-has-coronavirus/

[5] Joseph Zucker, Timeline of Coronavirus' Impact on Sports, Bleacher Report, (March 21, 2020), https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2880569-timeline-of-coronavirus-impact-on-sports

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Peter Botte, Rudy Gobert wishes he would’ve taken coronavirus ‘more seriously’ before diagnosis, NY Post, (March 15, 2020), https://nypost.com/2020/03/15/rudy-gobert-wishes-he-wouldve-taken-coronavirus-more-seriously-before-diagnosis/

[9] Sam Yip, 'Everything went to hell': stadium workers on the US sports shutdown, The Guardian, (March 24, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/mar/24/arena-stadium-workers-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak-sports-shutdown

[10] Alexandra Hutzler, WHAT IS AN ESSENTIAL BUSINESS? A STATE-BY-STATE ROUNDUP OF WHAT'S STAYING OPEN, Newsweek, (April 1, 2020), https://www.newsweek.com/what-essential-business-what-staying-open-state-roundup-1495537

[11] Amir Vera, NBA players are donating money to cover salaries of hourly workers amid suspended season, CNN, (March 16, 2020), https://www.click2houston.com/sports/2020/03/16/nba-players-are-donating-money-to-cover-salaries-of-hourly-workers-amid-suspended-season/

[12] Vicky McKeever, Soccer star Messi takes 70% pay cut due to coronavirus, as pressure mounts on others to follow suit, CNBC, (April 2, 2020), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/02/soccer-star-messi-takes-70percent-pay-cut-due-to-coronavirus.html

[13] Jace Evans, ESPN to fill airtime with classic Monday Night Football games, USA Today, (March 27, 2020), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2020/03/27/espn-airing-old-monday-night-football-games/2931582001/

[14] Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), CDC, (April 3, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html