On the night of March 11, I was sitting on the couch with my dad watching basketball, a ritual I had practiced thousands of times throughout the first twenty years of my life. We were watching a game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets, highlighted by a 31-point outburst by 7’4’’ role player Boban Marjanivić. The contest was anything but ordinary—Marjanivić may never have another game like that in his life—but the rhythmic pounding of the ball against the hardwood offered a sense of normalcy my dad and I were desperately craving that evening.
That morning, I had driven into Boston for an interview for an internship this summer—a prospect that seems to have become dubious at best. After showing up a bit early, I hopped into a sparsely populated Café Nero outside Government Center and looked out the large glass windows at the passersby. A few lone tumbleweeds flew through the dreary March morning, and the shops at nearby Faneuil Hall were empty. The Uber and cab drivers blasted down the deserted road with empty back seats. The escalator at the nearby T station rolled on and on with no one emerging from underground. The city, while not quite the desolate moonscape as it was during the Marathon bombing, radiated that same eerie, fear-induced quietness.
I had just finished up the interview when I got the email from Wesleyan asking me to return to campus and pack up my things. I wasn’t all that surprised, given the news from other peer institutions, but actually seeing still threw me for a loop. The crazy, incomplete approximation of the outside world that is college had been torn and distorted. This lively, passionate, and often ridiculous environment had been fundamentally altered for myself, my friends at Wesleyan, and students across the world.
Professional sports, like college, is another institution that serves to insulate someone from the very real problems and demands of everyday life. Sports provide storylines and disputes, transactions and trades, drama and comedy, and victory and defeat, all with the backdrop of a fantastical world where larger-than-life figures make millions of dollars off moving a ball around on live TV. Sports is just one more luxury that exists to take our mind off of the anxieties of school, or work, or living in general.
This was the express purpose that my father and I attributed to this Dallas-Denver matchup. It was supposed to take my mind off school, my dad’s mind off work, and both of our minds off the tremendous social and economic disruption being wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Basketball, at this moment, still resembled life from a month ago. There were still 48 minutes in a game, still two points to a field goal, and still 24 seconds before a shot was required.
In Oklahoma City, just 200 miles away from Dallas, basketball was not continuing as normal. Seconds before the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz tipped off, a medical official from the Thunder sprinted onto the court and frantically consulted with the referees. Shortly after, the game was called, and fans were sent home. By halftime of the Dallas-Denver game, viewers at home knew why: a player on the Utah Jazz had tested positive for COVID-19. Ten minutes later, the NBA suspended its season.
Since it was already in progress, the Dallas-Denver game was allowed to conclude—with the caveat that the announcers had fully turned their attention away from the game and toward the NBA’s upcoming hiatus. The final scheduled game of the night, between the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans, was also given approval to move forward, but never did. The Pelicans, upon learning that a referee assigned to that game had officiated a Jazz game two days ago, refused to exit their locker room. Soon, the league had postponed that game as well, leaving a pair of Delon Wright free-throws as the final taste of professional basketball for the foreseeable future.
Other sports leagues quickly followed the NBA’s example. First MLB, then the NHL postponed league activities. The PGA Tour canceled a slew of upcoming tournaments, including The Masters. Feeling pressure from individual schools and Power Five conferences, the NCAA canceled all spring competition, including the highly popular Men’s Basketball tournament. Piece by piece, the pillars holding up sports in America crumbled. The massive industry, consisting of everyone from billionaire owners to part-time arena workers, was brought to its knees, then knocked unconscious.
Maybe it is sad that it took an event as extreme as a global pandemic to show me how silly and fragile this entire business of athletics is. Perhaps it is shameful that it required the physical and financial suffering of thousands to pull me out of the shelter of sports. That in and of itself is a clear demonstration of the privilege I enjoy, being able to stick my head in the sand instead of feeling the true pain this virus will bring. The notion that I will suffer because sports is gone is ludicrous compared to the hurt others will feel in their hearts, bodies, or wallets. Certainly, however, a core constant of my life—one I even waste my time writing about in a school newspaper—has been ripped away suddenly and with no warning.
I hope that this time without sports or a traditional college experience can teach me and others how to engage in repairing society instead of hiding from it. I would urge people to find ways to give back to their communities, as so many others have already via the mutual aid spreadsheet shared around by the Wesleyan community. Most of all, people of my age should be fulfilling their core social obligations to their elderly or immunocompromised neighbors: washing their hands, practicing social distancing, and immediately quarantining if they become ill. This is the bare minimum we can readily provide when it comes to fighting this virus.
I don’t know what sports is going to look like in the coming months. I don’t know what the Argus Sports section will cover in the immediate future. I do hope, however, that everyone stays safe out there, takes care of themselves, and continues to stay defiant instead of complacent in the face of a global challenge of this scale. Sports will come back, in-person classes will resume, and the world will gradually return to business as usual. “This too,” as my grandmother often says, “shall pass.”
Drew Kushnir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.