Better label for Gobert might be accidental hero
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert took plenty of heat Thursday.
His positive test for the coronavirus is what shut down the NBA. A video circulated of him jokingly touching reporters' recorders and microphones after shootaround availability Monday in Salt Lake City.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski sent a tweet that read in part, "Jazz players privately say that Gobert had been careless in the locker room touching other players and their belongings." Gobert even apologized in an Instagram post to the people he "may have endangered."
First of all, Gobert wasn't symptomatic when he touched the microphones. He was making a friendly joke about the league-mandated barrier for interviews. At the time, he simply wasn't concerned about the disease, much like the rest of us.
Here's a better way to look at it: Gobert is an accidental hero.
The United States needed a kick in the head, a jolt of reality. The country should have been taking this pandemic more seriously, and Gobert's positive test spurred the sports world into taking action.
The Jazz and Thunder were on the court ready to tip off when someone from Oklahoma City's medical staff informed the referees of the positive test result, and the game was canceled.
Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, who later tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, was in uniform ready to play. Who knows how many other players could have been unknowingly infected had the game taken place?
Without Gobert's positive test, the Bulls probably would have played in Orlando on Thursday with spectators in the arena. Before the Oklahoma City cancellation, the only measures being taken by the NBA were keeping reporters out of the locker room and making plans to play Thursday's scheduled Golden State-Brooklyn game in an empty arena.
How many college basketball conference tournaments would have been played this weekend? The Big Ten went from business as usual to canceling their men's tournament in the span of about 18 hours. Would the NHL or MLB have suspended their seasons without the Gobert news?
How many of us were taking any personal precautions? How many of us felt this was no big deal, not worth worrying about? I certainly didn't jump forward to demand NBA games be canceled or played without fans.
Americans needed a harsh reminder that pandemics are minimized by swift action, social distancing and canceling things like crowded sporting events.
I recommend reading a story on medium.com by Tomas Pueyo. He gives a detailed explanation of why the coronavirus exploded in Italy but barely made a ripple in Taiwan. He provided graphs to show what a difference it can make by acting immediately, rather than waiting two weeks, and how the death rate will drop if the medical system isn't overwhelmed with new patients.
Most of us are not in any grave danger. Gobert and Mitchell should be fine whenever the NBA season resumes. But anyone is capable of passing the virus to someone who is at risk.
The malaise is understandable since other dangerous diseases faded away before doing much damage in the U.S. But when it is time for action, waiting can be deadly.
The NBA held a board of governors conference call Thursday, but the only plan right now seems to be wait 30 days and reassess.
The Bulls spent the night in Orlando and returned to Chicago on Thursday. They announced a suspension of basketball activities and encouraged their players to stay close. The team said no one in the traveling party has exhibited any symptoms.
It's possible the Bulls are done for the season with 17 games left on their schedule. The NBA playoffs probably will happen eventually. Whether the league will finish out the regular season remains to be seen. Maybe they'll start experimenting with play-in games before the playoffs.
The Windy City Bulls had a home game scheduled for the Sears Centre on Thursday. The G-League also was suspended, but that one seems less likely to start back up. Windy City had just seven games remaining.
Canceling sports is harsh. Frankly, I'm surprised the NCAA didn't wait it out before erasing its basketball tournaments. But this is probably a lesson our country needs to experience, and with some good decisions this could be avoidable in the future.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls