On Wednesday evening, I sat on my couch watching the Indiana-Nebraska men’s basketball game that was being played at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse when I received an alert on my phone.
“Jazz-Thunder postponed. Game called off before tipoff with no reason given; PA announcer says decision was made ‘due to unforeseen circumstances,’” it read.
I didn’t think much of it and continued to watch the Big Ten Tournament.
Thirty-six minutes later, another alert came across.
“Breaking news. NBA suspends regular season and will use hiatus to determine next steps.”
I immediately changed the channel to ESPN where Scott Van Pelt had popped onto the screen in the middle of the Denver Nuggets-Dallas Mavericks game and was speaking with reporter Royce Young in Oklahoma City.
The news later came that Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus.
I remained fixated on the television as the news and reports continued to pour in during the commerical breaks.
Once the Nuggets-Mavericks game concluded, it was sent back to Van Pelt in his studio. He spoke a little more about Gobert and what it meant for the NBA and the country.
He mentioned that the last game on Wednesday’s docket of games - New Orleans at Sacramento - could be the last one we’d be able to see for who knows how long.
I had planned on watching it regardless, but when those words came out of his mouth, I decided I was going to watch every last second of it.
However, when he threw it to ESPN analysts Dave Pasch and Richard Jefferson, who were on the call for the game, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right.
They talked the audience through what had taken place - NBA referee Courtney Kirkland, who as officiating the Pelicans-Kings game Wednesday, had just been in Detroit a few nights prior officiating the Jazz-Pistons game and therefore was around the virus - before stating they weren’t sure if he game would take place.
New Orleans’ players never came out of the locker room for warmups and the game was ultimately canceled minutes prior to tipoff.
Among those in the stands that got the last-minute news from the Kings’ PA announcer was a friend of mine, Cameron Dudeck, who is a Sacramento resident and was inside the Golden 1 Center with a friend to watch the game.
He gives a perspective of what that night was like and how fans in teh arena reacted to the cancellation of what was scheduled to be the final game before the NBA’s suspension went into effect.
When did you buy your tickets to the game?
I was actually invited to the game by a friend who was a season ticket holder. Luckily, I didn’t have to spend a dime to not see Zion play, but if I were a season ticket holder, where do I get my value for the rest of the season? For people who spend a lot of money up front for season tickets, I nor my friend didn’t know how the Kings were going to make up for the rest of the season for the ticket holders. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Were you ever weary about attending the game with COVID-19 becoming more serious by the hour?
I wasn’t too worried about it. I’ve been following the general protocols by washing my hands consistently, not touching others, etc. However, it did start becoming more serious when I hopped in my Uber on the way to the game and my driver was telling me I was his last ride for the evening, and he had just started work an hour before me. And then when I was leaving the arena, there were like three to five Uber drivers around but none of them were accepting my request to take me home so that was worrisome. But going into the game the NBA had already announced the cancellation of the season and I was consistently checking Twitter to see if the Kings game was going to be cancelled, but no such announcement was made until we got into our seats right at tipoff.
Describe what the atmosphere in the arena was like prior to what would have been tip off (going through security, getting in your seats, getting food or drinks, etc.)
Going through security was a breeze, no issues there. It felt like a normal Kings game, as if nothing the coronavirus issue never existed. I didn’t see anyone wearing masks, protective clothing, nothing. People were there to get away from all the news and media stuff at home about the coronavirus and to go watch what was suppose to be an extremely fun game, and of course see the one and only Zion Williamson. It was a vibrant atmosphere, there was a lot of excitement in the arena because it was the Kings first and only nationally televised game of the season. People were wanting to watch basketball.
As the minutes wound down to game getting underway in Sacramento, the NBA had announced the season would be suspended for the foreseeable future. Were you aware of that in your seats? If so, what was your reaction, as well as others around you?
Yes, I was aware. As I was getting ready for the game, the NBA had announced the season was suspended. Like I mentioned above, I was consistently checking Twitter to see if the Kings game was cancelled, but there were no tweets or alerts I received that the game was going to be cancelled. Everyone was in shock around us, couldn’t believe that it went this far to suspend the season. Us and the guys sitting next to us agreed that this would be the only way to take action since Rudy Gobert was infected. We weren’t happy when we got to our seats, sat down, and the realized we had to chugg our $17 beers and head home though.
The Kings went through their normal pregame routines - or as close to them as usual - whereas the Pelicans never really came out onto the floor. When did it become apparent the game probably wasn’t going to be played?
We knew something was strange when the Pelicans weren’t on the floor, however, we really knew the game was going to be cancelled as a bunch of kids who were suppose to stretch the American flag across the court for the national anthem started walking back into the tunnel with the flag. Then and there my friend and I knew the game was going to be cancelled. Shortly after the kids walked back, the announcement was made.
Once the PA announcer gave the message the game had been postponed, and the message was posted on the video boards, what was the arena like? How were people reacting?
LOUD boos. Nobody was happy, and the stadium was like 75% full and going. You saw kids crying, people upset, guys chugging their beers, and surprisingly, some people just sat their in disbelief because they paid all this money to get some entertainment to get away from their jobs and step outside of the home only to realize that they have to be at work the next morning and didn’t get to watch their favorite team play. It went from excitement to extreme disappointment within two minutes. It was crazy to witness.
What was it like exiting the arena with all of the other fans, not knowing when you’d have a chance to see an NBA game in person again?
Everyone was hoping to get to see the Kings play at least one more time, and get a circus show with Zion Williamson. Everyone was frustrated too because the Kings were in the race for the playoffs and now more than likely with the season suspended, the Kings will yet again miss the playoffs. People were disappointed, in disbelief because of it. To me, it was all surreal, but this is something you can’t make up. Everyone just wanted to truly watch basketball and not continously listen and here about the coronavirus. People were trying to escape the stress and anxiety of this to go root for the Kings and help them reach a playoff spot. But instead, we’ll be sitting in our homes with unnecessary amounts of toilet paper, easy mac, hand sanitizer, and forcing ourselves to watch TV shows. What a time to be alive.