Utah Jazz fans are used to having NBA championship hopes in July, but they’re not accustomed to seeing their team actually pursue that goal during the heat of summer.
Such is life in 2020, a year when absolutely nothing has been normal. Normally, Jazz fans’ summer title dreams are centered on their latest free-agent signing and rookie prospects, hoping that they’re the pieces that will finally bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to Salt Lake City the following June. Instead, a four-month pause in the NBA season means the Jazz hope to be wrapping up their title pursuit in October, around the time they’d normally be starting training camp.
Thursday night brings the first meaningful NBA games since the season came crashing down in March, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 just before a scheduled game in Oklahoma City. Twenty-two teams are taking part in the resumption of the season in empty arenas at Walt Disney World, with each team playing eight “seeding games” before the beginning of the traditional 16-team playoffs in mid-August.
Let’s hope the NBA manages to pull this off. Unlike Major League Baseball, which has seen its season thrown into a bit of disarray over the past week because of the Miami Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak, the NBA is conducting its season in a “bubble,” not allowing players to leave its “campus” except for emergencies — and forcing players to self-quarantine upon their return. The National Hockey League has taken it one step further, and left the United States altogether to conduct its postseason in two Canadian “hub cities” under strict bubble rules.
Unfortunately, playing in a “bubble” might be the only safe way for professional sports to resume. The NBA and NHL haven’t had a positive COVID-19 test in the past couple weeks, and the NBA players’ union is reportedly pondering playing next season this way because things have worked out so well to this point. This, of course, would mean fans won’t be able to attend games in person for a while to come.
Worse yet, baseball, pro football and college sports really can’t set up a “bubble” like the NBA and NHL can. That means there might not be a season at all, as the Marlins have shown the risk teams take by traveling from city to city.
For die-hard sports fans like me, this is a strange situation. On one hand, I love having games back on TV. I’ve watched every exhibition NBA and NHL game I can find, and a lot of baseball, golf and NASCAR. On the other, it’s strange hearing fake crowd noise in the background when the arenas and stadiums are clearly empty. Also, I find myself wishing I could go to some of these games as a fan, and wonder when the day will come that I can.
One thing is for certain: I’ll never take simple pleasures like live sporting events for granted again.
At least we get to see how the story of the 2019-20 NBA season ends — namely, how the Jazz end up faring without the injured Bojan Bogdanovic. We’ll just have to watch it play out in an empty gym in Orlando instead of in front of a packed Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He hopes his roommates don’t mind him being glued to the couch in front of the TV watching games for the next couple months. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.