The imaginary barrier that separates the Lakers from the people who admire them has been breached.
LeBron James will be tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday as will Anthony Davis and every other player in Los Angeles’ signature sports franchise.
The gravity of the pandemic had started to set in over the previous few days as emergencies were declared, schools were closed and stores ran out of toilet paper.
The medical experts were right. The disease spreads easily and doesn’t discriminate.
Like millions of other Americans, the Lakers might have been exposed to the virus at work, specifically in their last game before the NBA suspended its season.
Four players on the Brooklyn Nets tested positive for the coronavirus, including sidelined superstar Kevin Durant, who was part of the team’s traveling party to Staples Center.
“Given the exposure risks from our game against the Nets on March 10th, we are following the next steps of our COVID-19 procedures and protocol that are established in consultation with various health officials, the NBA and our UCLA Health doctors,” the Lakers said in a statement.
The number of confirmed cases leaguewide is now up to seven. There will be more.
Imagine if games had been played for even a couple of more days. Or worse, if they were still being played.
In retrospect, the NBA was incredibly fortunate that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus when he did. The country was too.
In a time and place in which response to a medical crisis was slowed by the politicization of the healthcare system, Gobert was a savior. His now-infamous touching of microphones made him a mockery, but his infection marked a turning point in how the pandemic was treated.
Medical experts had warned of how contagious the virus was and how it could spread. But the NBA and other sports leagues attempted to balance their social responsibilities with their primary purpose of generating revenue. When San Francisco banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people, the Golden State Warriors announced they would play in an empty arena.
Lakers’ LeBron James drives to the basket past Brooklyn Nets’ Wilson Chandler during a 104-102 Nets win at Staples Center on March 10. (Harry How / Getty Images)
Gobert’s positive test on March 11 prevented the bizarre game from ever taking place.
The NBA shut down. The other professional sports leagues in this country did the same. Even the reactionary NCAA scrapped its men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments, with President Mark Emmert calling Gobert’s diagnosis “an exclamation point.”
“It was like, ‘Yeah, this is real,’ ” Emmert told ESPN.
Talk about dumb luck.
Gobert’s teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive for the coronavirus in the days that followed. So did Christian Wood of the Detroit Pistons, who was matched up with Gobert on March 7. A Rhode Island child who received an autograph from Gobert in Boston on March 6 also came down with the disease.
After their game against Pistons, the Jazz played the Toronto Raptors and warmed up on the same court as the Oklahoma City Thunder for a contest that was postponed at the last minute. The Pistons went on to visit the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers.
The Nets hadn’t played either the Jazz or Pistons in some time. The last time they played the Jazz was on Jan. 14. Their most recent game against the Pistons was on Jan. 29.
Who knows how many times the four infected Nets players shook hands or embraced players on other teams while they carried the virus. And who knows how many more times they would have done that if Gobert’s condition hadn’t interrupted the season.
If something positive has come out of this, it’s that the public has gained a greater understanding of how quickly the disease can spread. In a country in which right-wing politicians attack science and students routinely test poorly in the subject, the value of this can’t be understated. Too many Americans have dismissed the coronavirus as a problem for old people and old people only, failing to comprehend the damage that can be inflicted simply by carrying the virus.
Ignoring the coronavirus isn’t an option anymore. Even escapist activities such as basketball can’t provide an escape from the pandemic.