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NBA’s season suspension the pinnacle of one of the most surreal nights in league history

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Oh, what a night.

The most bizarre? Maybe that was Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, when Kevin Durant tore his Achilles tendon after a scintillating stretch in which he announced to the world that he was still the baddest man with the rock following a return from injury.

The saddest? That was the immediate aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s death on Jan. 26 and all the details that followed.

The weirdest, most cringe-inducing? Magic Johnson resigning from the Lakers the night of their home finale last season, becoming a meme and a moment at the same time.

So what to make of Wednesday, March 11, 2020? The most chaotic? The most frightening? The most unknown night in NBA history?

We don’t know how we got here, although there’s a straight line from when the league woke up for business to when it finally decided to lay its head on an uncertain pillow by night’s end.

In the span of three hours, the league went from the unprecedented notion of having games without fans to things spiraling so quickly — even in the time of minute-by-minute news — to suspending league play indefinitely.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert — who playfully touched reporters’ recorders and microphones during his media session Monday — tested positive for the coronavirus before the Jazz-Thunder game, prompting a quarantine of all the players and media in Oklahoma City.

Fans leave the Golden 1 Center after the NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings was postponed at the last minute in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The league said the decision was made out of an "abundance of caution," because official Courtney Kirkland, who was scheduled to work the game, had worked the Utah Jazz game earlier in the week. A player for the Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Fans leave the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, after the Pelicans-Kings game was postponed at the last minute Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

It produced a domino effect — the Pelicans-Kings game was postponed at the last minute later in the evening — in which we saw the last night of NBA basketball for perhaps quite some time.

Playoffs? Who knows?

Regular season reconvening? Your guess.

For the past couple of weeks, the coronavirus was coming. It was spoken about in hushed tones in buildings of large gatherings throughout states over the last few weeks, but nobody knew how it would hit, who would be affected and what the ramifications would be.

Athletes tend to operate in their own dream world of sorts, and when you factor in the statistics of it affecting those with vulnerable immune systems and older people, there stood very little reason to believe an NBA player could catch the coronavirus — let alone so quickly.

The NBA was still grappling with the notion of removing fans — something so unheard of in the moment — when something more in-your-face came along.

And it was then when you could see how so many could be affected by the coronavirus, just from Gobert. It isn’t known how he contracted it, but it’s possible he’s been in contact with countless people since and now we see how it can spread.

The NBA did the smart thing and shut the league down, not wanting to take any more chances.

It’s easy to place blame, but how can you assign it to the league? It’s reacting in real time to the pandemic like the rest of the world is, and it’s virtually impossible to get in front of it. The best it can do is test as many players and personnel as possible, quarantine and hope for the best.

There’s no precedent. There’s no guide.

We can stop looking for one in the meantime.

But to show how quickly things can change over a day, or a week, or a night, NBA players went through their regular routines while the men who sign their checks had discussions on how to proceed with their professional lives.

When the players stepped onto the floor to warm up, they knew this could be the last time they hear and engage with fans in this way, although the innocence of the moment had long abandoned them.

By the time some walked off the floor Wednesday night, they knew things changed so drastically that “normalcy” was something that wouldn’t be embraced for quite a while. For many, the process of a new reality already began.

Imagine what we’ll all know tomorrow.

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