Players around the NBA are still getting tested for COVID-19 as league officials try to connect the dots between players and team staff who may have come in contact with infected individuals, but the story of the night the NBA shut down is also coming into clearer focus. As the New Orleans Pelicans prepared to tip off their nightcap game on ESPN on Wednesday, March 20, the television was set to the previous game on the Worldwide Leader, as reporters were patched into that broadcast explaining the situation with Rudy Gobert testing positive for coronavirus.
On his podcast this week, Pelicans guard J.J. Redick broke down the series of events in Sacramento that night as the Pelicans and Kings initially were set to continue with their scheduled game despite commissioner Adam Silver announcing the shutdown of the league.
— The Ringer (@ringer) March 19, 2020
Prior to Gobert’s test moving forward the timeline, Redick said teams were preparing for a shutdown. “In talking to our head trainer, Aaron Nelson, it became apparent that if there was a positive test for an NBA player, that it was inevitable they were going to shut the league down,” Redick said. However, as players scrambled to understand what was going on in Oklahoma City, the severity of the coronavirus outbreak dawned on them.
“For most guys, it was a little surreal. We’re watching a team doctor run across the floor and stop a game just as you’re getting ready to tip it off,” Redick said. “I think we’re all now sort of grasping the severity of this virus and the seriousness of this virus that we didn’t quite get the week prior. The league had been good about providing guidance … but that’s when it became very serious.”
Just as the game was about to start, team executives became aware that Courtney Kirkland, a referee who had officiated the Jazz’s last game, was scheduled for the Pelicans-Kings matchup. It was the final straw for what would have been the final regularly scheduled game of the 2019-20 season.
“We were having a conversation in the locker room like, we don’t think it’s safe to play,” Redick said. “If the NBA had made us play, we would have hooped, but I know a lot of guys expressed concern that they didn’t think it was safe to go out and play, not just for us, but for anyone who was in the arena that night.”
After the game, Redick said he dialed up Thunder point guard Chris Paul, a former teammate who was in the building for the pandemonium in Oklahoma City and the president of the players’ association. Paul by that time had already been tested but allowed to return home.
Redick also added, despite the high level of focus being placed upon NBA teams cutting the line to acquire COVID-19 tests, that he has not been tested and does not believe any members of the Pelicans have, either.