Covid in Context

On what would have been the opening day of Major League Baseball, arenas and stadiums remain empty around the country. Fans sit at home idly waiting for the quarantine to end, and players turn to streaming services like Instagram Live or Twitch to stay connected and try to pass the time.

The World is a scary and quiet place right now, and having all professional sports on hiatus makes it even quieter. In my lifetime, I have never experienced anything like this. But is this a first for the world of professional sports? Could this really be one of the most bizarre things to happen to sports since the modern era of sports began?

The NBA started as the Basketball Association of America in 1946, and played under that name for three years before merging with the National Basketball League in 1949. At the time, there were only 17 teams. However, because of financial troubles in smaller market areas, within six years the league had only 8 teams. The NBA has had plenty of troubles throughout its history, but has also seen huge growth and success due to the rise in popularity of its stars.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the NBA made its first major television deal, and that was largely because of the game-defining rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The 1990’s saw Michael Jordan become the single greatest athlete of his time, causing the league to see another major upswing. By the 2000’s, the NBA had become a staple for fans in the United States. Today, the NBA has become the country’s most popular sport, due in large part to the personality and leadership of Lebron James.

In recent weeks the League was forced to close it’s doors due to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the pandemic “Corona” virus. In the days that followed Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis, other professional athletes were diagnosed with Covid-19, such as Donovan Mitchell and Kevin Durant.

For the first time in its history, the NBA has now been forced to cancel the rest of its regular season, as well as, post season and finals. The NHL had to cancel the Stanley Cup in 1919 due to the Spanish Flu. The NHL also had to cancel it’s 2006 season because of a players’ strike, and the MLB likewise had to cancel it’s 1994 post season due to a players’ strike. Still, in all of professional sports history, widespread and lengthy cancellations are rare.

Andrew Rei, a former basketball official, told me, “This is the first time all four major professional sports leagues have had a simultaneous shutdown that lasted more than six days. After the 9/11 terror strike in 2001, all major sporting events were cancelled, but only for six days. Internationally, in 1944, both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games were cancelled because of World War II and the 1916 Summer Games were canceled due to World War I.”

Waking up to no sports scores or games to watch is a strange feeling.Sports will return though. They always have. They may look extremely different when they do. Tom Brady will be Tampa Bay’s quarterback and Kevin Durant will be on the court in a Nets uniform. Until then, we all just have to do our part in helping things get back to normal.

When the NBA does return, whenever that is, it will be welcomed with open arms. I’m sure the first game after this hiatus is going to be watched by a massive audience, maybe the largest in the league’s history, and it will be a great time to finally come together again.

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