One Year Later, No Pandemic Closure For Surging Jazz

Mar 10, 2021, 10:56 PM | Updated: Mar 11, 2021, 8:11 am
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)...
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Now one year into the pandemic that has changed our lives forever, it would have been nice to tie a bow on the anniversary of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 in Oklahoma City.

With the Jazz in first place in the NBA, and vaccines for this horrible virus rolling out at a record pace across the globe, this story has a few key elements for a happy ending.

But truthfully, there’s no ending that will erase the horribleness the Jazz, this sport, our country, and our world has faced over the last year that can make up for the pain that has been suffered.

Shortly after Gobert’s diagnosis, Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell were pitted against one another soon after their positive tests were revealed to the public. One outlet reported the relationship between the two players didn’t “appear salvageable.”

Four months later the two retook the floor in their Jazz uniforms and nearly upset the higher-seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. To this day, Gobert is still asked about the virus by members of the national media, a burden he handles with honesty and grace.

Despite Gobert’s unique ability to navigate his role as patient zero, a title cast on him more by chance than by personal irresponsibility, he’s an ongoing target by those on social media who blame him for the NBA temporarily shuttering its doors last season.

Mitchell is also frequently asked about both his diagnosis and relationship with Gobert, even though the two have now shared the floor nearly 50 times since the rumors first broke that the two had an irreparable partnership.

The two have handled the scrutiny well, and haven’t let the virus derail their promising careers or their ability to win games together, but their legacies have been forever colored by their early positive tests through no fault of their own.

The NBA has lost billions of dollars, salvaged somewhat by an ultra-ambitious plan to finish its season inside a protected Disney World campus in Orlando. The plan worked, though other professional leagues found similar success with other, less aggressive forms of safety protocols.

Though sports have returned, the shortened seasons and loss of revenue have resulted in layoffs across all leagues and seemingly every business that comes into close contact with them.

Despite its best efforts, the NBA still has players testing positive for the virus weekly. Thankfully, no player has yet undergone life-threatening side effects, but several plays have seen a decline in play after returning to the floor.

Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Antony Towns lost seven members of his family to the virus, including his mother who had been a mainstay throughout his NBA career.

More than 2.6 million people have died from COVID-19 by official counts, with nearly 20 percent of those deaths coming in the United States alone.

Nearly 400,000 Utahns have acquired the virus, with nearly 2,000 lives lost since the first cases were reported.

Almost 4,000 fans are allowed back at Jazz games now, and when mixed with some artificial crowd noise, it almost feels like a normal game when you’re in the arena. With the number of vaccinated climbing, and the season ramping up to its most important games, the Jazz will soon let the number grow, hoping to have the most fans possible in their arena in time for the postseason.

Still, as fans do return, they’ll be required to wear masks, socially distance when possible, leave the arena as quickly as possible when the game is over, and view the game through a layer of plexiglass that separates the players from the crowd.

This is not to say that the hope felt worldwide should be thrown out. The record-breaking production of several vaccines is saving countless lives daily.

Sports have returned across the globe, giving fans a much-needed reprieve and sense of normalcy during an otherwise inescapable global catastrophe, and allowing those who rely on the industry to return to work.

The Jazz 27-9 start to the season has been nothing short of a miracle in light of how difficult the last season and the last year have been for the team and its fans, and the best may be yet to come.

But today, on the one-year anniversary of Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19, the enormous pain still far outweighs the recent victories. Hopefully, soon we’ll be able to look back at this pandemic as having some redeeming quality in our lives, but for now, we are still reckoning with our losses, carried forward by our instinct to persevere.

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