“The day COVID arrived, we got drunk in the locker room”

Rudy Gobert’s positive was the first in the NBA, which folded sails in a swift reaction that the rest of professional sport soon followed. It was a case that remained as a figurehead of the arrival of COVID and its devastating impact also on sport, which was frozen, in suspense. Gobert, you know, had made jokes in bad taste just days before, when he touched the microphones already far away in the first threat of social distance that the League tried. Then came the positive from Donovan Mitchell, the bitterness between the two Utah Jazz stars, today in different destinations. Gobert on the Timberwolves, Mitchell on the Cavaliers. That day, March 11, was the beginning of the NBA’s confinement. That game, a Thunder-Jazz in OKC, an emergency management when everything was unknown. Basically, when no one knew anything. Not yet.

The NBA paused until the restart in the Florida bubble, its first official game on July 30. Now, much later, Donovan Mitchell has recalled what it was like on that night of chaos in Oklahoma City, when the Jazz found themselves locked in a locker room in the Thunder arena without information that, in reality, did not exist at the time. The escort has told it on the JJ Redick podcast, The Old Man & The Three: “It was an important match for the classification of the regular phase. And we obviously didn’t have Rudy because of a disease that we still didn’t know was COVID. But we were going to play until all these people in suits showed up… I thought there was an armed guy, a shooter in the pavilion. I didn’t even realize what was really going on. I asked Chris Paul (he was in his season in the Thunder) What was happening, he didn’t tell me anything, we only knew that the game was suspended”.

Things didn’t exactly improve from there: “Quin Snyder, the coach, told us that the illness that had kept Gobert out of the game was COVID. And we stayed… You have to remember that it was when nothing was known yet. We had to stay locked up in that locker room for nine hours. No one there in Oklahoma City wanted us to move from there, to go anywhere because of the risk of contagion. They didn’t want us to go back to our hotel. It was, of course, when masks were not even used yet. It was when they only told you to wash your hands well. Everything was too much… they gave us those first tests that were available, the ones that seemed to they touched you directly on the skull. I won’t say we panicked… but we didn’t know what to do.”

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Then came a solution provided by the star of the rival team: “Chris Paul, and I thank him from here, he sent us fifteen bottles of wine. So at least we had food and drink. And I’m not going to lie, we got drunk. We knew that he was not going to leave, we were locked up there… We knew that we would not play for a little season, everyone was calling us, everyone was in face time, we were sitting there not knowing what was going to happen, so we were drinking and trying not to be scared. After those nine hours, they took us by bus to the hotel, the driver in a special suit and 53 of us, because the delegation was 53 people: the team, all the technicians, the press… When we got to the hotel it was very strange too. It was completely empty, there were only police, and they didn’t even let us touch food. We had to wait the next day like that, until we caught our flight to get out of there. I called everyone I know who has a private plane, to see if we players could at least get out of that hotel. And everyone told me not to talk. So we just stood there, unable to do anything. Chatting, drinking beers… the craziest experience we’d ever had. Ed Davis, for example, had a cold. He coughed all the time and we told him to get away from us (laughs) and stay away. It was like a movie. I will never forget that night, I have photos on my mobile of those hours that one day I will frame and hang on the walls of my house. And I will tell my children that it is one of the most momentous moments in the history of sports in the United States.”

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