On the evening of March 11, 2020, the Kings were warming up for a nationally televised game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento when everything changed with a swift, stunning and unprecedented sequence of events.
A team doctor sprinted onto the floor in Oklahoma City to inform officials Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. A short time later in Sacramento, the Pelicans refused to come out of their locker room to play the Kings, knowing referee Courtney Kirkland had officiated one of Gobert’s games two days earlier.
The games were postponed. The season was suspended. In a span of about 90 minutes, the wheels that move the massive NBA machine every night came grinding to a halt. That was one year ago today.
“You think of everything that’s happened since then with all the deaths and people getting sick,” Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “Your heart goes out to everybody who’s had to endure the virus or people who have lost loved ones to it. It’s crazy that it’s been a year. Time doesn’t feel the same. It feels like it’s been a lot longer.”
More than 2.6 million people have died during the coronavirus pandemic, including 526,000 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kings guard Kyle Guy lost his grandfather to the virus. Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns lost his mother. The whole NBA community mourned the loss of Sekou Smith, a longtime reporter and NBA TV television analyst.
Kings coach Luke Walton reflected on the eeriest of nights in the NBA as his team prepared to play the Houston Rockets on Thursday night at Golden 1 Center on the first anniversary of the March 11 NBA shutdown. He touched on the loss of life, the loss of livelihoods and the hope of a safe return to normalcy.
“You just don’t think you’re ever going to live through something like that, and to think now that it’s been a full year,” Walton said. “There have been shutdowns and the amount of deaths we’ve had in the world, your heart bleeds. It’s been a really tough year for a lot of people, people within the NBA family, people you’re close to.
“You try to be as compassionate and as understanding as possible, and then you also hope that we understand that even with vaccines coming, we stay strong and realize this thing is still out there. It feels like we’re getting closer, which is exciting, but we still have to be very smart and very responsible to ourselves and each other, and continue to stay together and support each other, because it’s been a really challenging year for everybody.”
The NBA has done remarkable work in response to the pandemic, creating the Orlando bubble to conclude the ill-fated 2019-20 season before returning to home arenas to start the 2020-21 season. In order for the games to go on, players, coaches, officials, executives and staffers have adhered to extensive health and safety protocols, including frequent testing, isolation and quarantine periods.
“I think the NBA has done an amazing job,” Walton said. “I didn’t see how playing a season would even be possible. They showed why it’s such a powerful league and the leadership that’s there, and how they’ve handled the whole thing. I think you have to give the players a lot of credit, too, because there’s been a lot of sacrifice being away from families, making sure they’re watching each other’s backs, and still providing some sort of normalcy and entertainment to the world, to me, mentally, is a very healthy thing. Between the players and the actual leadership of the NBA, I’ve been very proud and pleased to be a part of it.”