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NBA to suspend season after Jazz player tests positive for coronavirus

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Los Angeles (AFP)

The NBA will suspend play starting on Thursday after a Utah Jazz player preliminarily tested positive for the new coronavirus, the league said Wednesday.

The test result was reported shortly before Utah's game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City was to begin, and that game was abruptly postponed.

The league said the affected player was not at the arena.

"The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight's schedule of games until further notice," the league said. "The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic."

The Jazz issued a statement saying that the affected player initially tested negative for influenza and a respiratory infection.

The decision was made to test again for COVID-19. They did not name the player in the statement. The player tested positive and is being treated by health officials in Oklahoma City.

"A preliminary positive result came back right before tip-off of the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City game," the Jazz statement said. "The decision was correctly made by the NBA postpone the game."

Team owners had been discussing Wednesday how best the league should respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

Dallas owner Mark Cuban was sitting courtside at the Mavericks game against Denver when he got the news on his phone.

"I thought this is crazy. It can't be true," Cuban said. "It is like out of a movie. Unreal."

Upon learning the news about the suspension of the season, Cuban immediately walked over to the team bench to let the team officials know and then walked on the court to tell the officials.

"It is not about basketball and money. This is exploding to the point where I think about the families. We are making sure we are doing this the right way," he said.

"The idea that a couple of players have it .... it is stunning, isn't the right word."

Earlier NBA team owners and league officials had been wrestling with how to manage in the face of the outbreak, considering not only postponing games but also playing without fans in the arenas.

The Golden State Warriors had confirmed they would host the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday in San Francisco behind closed doors after San Francisco city officials announced a two-week ban on all gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

The league-wide decision was made after the confusing scenes in Oklahoma City, where Jazz and Thunder players took the court to warm up, but shortly before the scheduled tip-off were sent to their locker rooms before police began to clear the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Fans were told only that the game was postponed due to "unforeseen circumstances" before they were herded out of the arena.

The NBA did not name the player who had tested positive, but several US media outlets reported it was French defensive standout Rudy Gobert, who was listed first as questionable for the game and then as out with illness.

Teammate Emmanuel Mudiay was also listed as suffering from an undisclosed illness on the team's injury report.

- 'unprecedented' -

Six NBA games were scheduled for Wednesday. Four were underway when the game in Oklahoma City was called off and a later game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Kings in Sacramento was also postponed.

"It's unprecedented," Detroit coach Dwayne Casey -- whose Pistons fell to the 76ers in Philadelphia -- said of the decision to suspend the season. "I think it's the prudent thing to do."

Cuban said he he is ready to do whatever the league asks of him.

"I am not an expert," he said. "The NBA has people who specialize in this. They are talking to the CDC. I don't want to fake it."

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said this is much bigger than basketball.

"Stunned," Spoelstra said after his team lost to the visiting Charlotte Hornets.

"It's a very serious time right now. I think the league moved appropriately," added Spoelstra, who concluded his post-game press conference by saying: "There's nothing to really talk about with the game, right?"

Cuban said he was thinking of the safety and health of his family.

"I walked over to my wife and said 'do we send our kids to school tomorrow.'"

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