As cases start to rise across the country and the world, Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert tests positive for COVID-19, which sets off a chain reaction in the sports world that starts with the immediate suspension of the 2019-20 NBA season on March 11.

While the NFL and WNBA drafts occur as scheduled – virtually - Wimbledon is canceled. But there is some hope: the Taiwan-based Chinese Professional Baseball League season begins April 12 – one of the first sports leagues to return to action.

More sports return, slowly and without fans – The Korean Baseball Organization, UFC, the Bundesliga and NASCAR. But the 2020 Boston Marathon is canceled for the first time ever.

The NBA unveils its plan for a season restart in Walt Disney World with 22 teams.

A shortened MLB season begins on July 23, while postponed games pop up after one week.

The 2020 NFL season begins on Sept. 10. Some stadiums allow fans, others do not. The Tampa Bay Lightning win the 2020 Stanley Cup.

The NFL postpones its third Thanksgiving game between Ravens and Steelers from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 due to COVID-19 concerns.

the 2021 NBA season begins. The 49ers move their home games to State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, because of COVID-19 restrictions in their home county of Santa Clara.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl, while, 16 NBA teams allow a limited number of fans to attend games.

Now, as we head into the first full year since the COVID-19 pandemic, most sports have returned – albeit with a lot of new protocols and restrictions.

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Year in Sports during COVID-19 pandemic

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By Jay Busbee

Many years from now, when sports fans scroll through the list of 2020 champions — maybe for a school project, maybe because they’re bored at work, maybe because they want to learn more about President Brady’s first job — they’ll see a whole lot of familiar names.

They’ll see that the Los Angeles Lakers won, and the Los Angeles Dodgers too. They’ll see that Alabama once again ended up atop a college football playoff that once again included Clemson and Ohio State. They’ll see that the Tampa Bay Lightning breezed to the Stanley Cup without facing a single Game 7. They’ll see that Dustin Johnson, the world’s no. 1 golfer, won the world’s no. 1 golf tournament in Augusta. They’ll see that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic won Grand Slams just like they’d done a combined 36 times before. They’ll see that the Seattle Storm ended a whole one-season-long championship drought. They’ll see that Tom Brady once again was the NFL’s last man standing.

They’ll see all this, and they’ll say, huh … seems like 2020 was a pretty by-the-numbers sports year. Try not to laugh at them when they do.

You were there. You remember the cancellations, piling one on top of another in those traumatic first days after March 11. OK, we’ll lock down for a couple of weeks, but then we’ll be OK by the Masters, right? We can figure a way to play the NCAA tournament, can’t we? At least we’ll be able to play Wimbledon, right?

You remember the plans, the hopes, the bubbles. The fear that if sports pushed forward, we’d be looking at unimaginable tragedy. The relief that everything went as well as it could, all things considered. The understanding that while sports aren’t everything … they do help, if only a little bit.

So why was 2020 such, to use an NCAA tournament term, a chalk year? (Sadly, that’s about all we can take from 2020 for the unplayed NCAA tournament.) Start with stability. Put simply: it’s easier to be a good team if you’re already a good team. The Dodgers and Lightning, among others, have a long recent pedigree of winning, while the Lakers and Buccaneers benefitted from the addition of significant new talent. (We’ll just overlook the statistical improbability of three championship-level teams coming from Tampa, a city not known for a championship pedigree.)

More than that, though, you needed leadership, both on the field and off. Tom Brady is the most visible example here — he raised Tampa Bay from a forgotten squad to a champion — but he’s not the only one. LeBron James, Sue Bird, Clayton Kershaw, Nick Saban … at a time when we needed the best to be the best, the best stepped up.

The heart of it all, though, is resilience. Players rose to the challenge of an unfamiliar situation, and fans learned to accept that something is always better than nothing. Sports didn’t really “return to normal,” we all just adjusted.

Remember the joy of watching pseudo-sports like marble racing, or the first sports back, like Korean baseball? The roar of NASCAR engines that burst through eight long weeks of nationwide silence? The fake cheers that went from discordant to mildly annoying to utterly normal? Remember it all, because years from now, nobody’s going to believe we took such strange roads to end up in such familiar locations.