Basketball --and sports in general-- has always seemed like an inviolate sanctum. It has been a space that exists outside of reality, where in that moment, it's simply about competition between two parties, and a contest of physical and mental wills, to see who triumphs in a winner-takes-all battle.
Right now, a new battle is happening. Despite rapid developments and global media attention, it still seemed surreal to many, like an overhyped flu season that wasn't worth the time of the day. But on Thursday, it finally crossed realities, when the NBA announced the suspension of their 2019/20 season, when Utah Jazz centre, Rudy Gobert was tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Later the same day, FIBA confirmed that all competitions would be suspended, in light of the pandemic. The EuroLeague has suspended its games until further notice, as is EuroCup. For now, it seems like NCAA's March Madness will be playing behind closed doors, although a cancellation will not surprise anyone at this point. Meanwhile in Australia, the NBL looks like it will go ahead with its plans for Game 2 of the Perth Wildcats-Sydney Kings finals.
There's no doubt that the world has been dealt a heavy blow in 2020. Narrow it down to Australia, and we have bushfires, floods, and the threat of a pandemic that is yet to be slowed, or contained. We have been hit hard, and will continue to languish until medical science finds an answer for all the afflicted, and the ones who are yet to be, and hopefully never to be. Society, economics, businesses - this situation isn't just hitting one single vector. We are seeing physical isolation becoming a necessary measure, subtle shifts of societal norms, and the concept of space redefined, should this persist. If we were to just talk about the impact on sports, it goes from venue operations to team and league livelihoods, and even media organisations among other entities, who rely on sport as their lifeblood. How far do the cracks go, and how long will it last? It's a question that no one can decisively answer at this stage.
But back to basketball. Contained within the relatively simple construct of ten individuals, two hoops and a leather ball, are those countless moments we relive, over and over again. In our heads, on YouTube immortality, mocking Twitter memes, raging Reddit threads, and excitable trash talk over a beer (or any other suitable beverage really, alcoholic or not).
The beauty of a contested shot, arcing its way over the outstretched fingers of an agonised defender, before it spirals down and swishes its way into the net. The perfectly angled geometry of a solidly set screen that takes the defender a step further away, and creates a sliver of space for the ball handler to create possibilities; an open jump shot, a pocket pass to the rolling big man --who already has his sights at the rim-- or perhaps a drive that collapses defences for just the barest of moments, and an abrupt swing of the ball back out into the waiting hands of a teammate, lurking for his favourite shot.
How about other less glamorous plays, ones that rarely make the highlight reel? A well-timed box out, hustling for position to clear airspace for a teammate that takes the rebound, something that will never register on a box score. Brilliantly-executed defensive rotations, papering over momentary lapses in space, a mad physical scramble to hold defensive integrity for yet another few precious seconds. The selfless pass right after receiving the ball, that gets the team an easy shot.
All of these could be frozen in internet immortality, and not witnessed live for a while. Perhaps, even a long while. Again, it's still too early to predict how far the repercussions will reverberate. Things could die down rapidly once medical science finds an answer. Or, we could see sport entering a new, uncertain era in the days to come. But one thing's for sure - when the time is right, when things are finally back as they were, we will be welcoming the return of basketball, be it from the stands or in front of the screen. The pure, unadulterated game, filled with all the emotions we can handle: joy, excitement, anguish, hopelessness, and everything in between. The moments that are both impossible and possible (Barney Stinson might call it the Possimpible), and all that goes with it: the drama, the gossip, and conversation that fuels the sport.
We were told, basketball never stops. But for now, it's taking a timeout.
Until the next whistle.