By DOUG EATON
Contributing Sports Writer
The sports world has certainly been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. So many games and events that were the hallmark at this time of year have been cancelled and some lost forever. While some may be rescheduled at some point in the future, any degree of certainty of when, where and how is still up in the air. College conference basketball tournaments, the NBA regular season and playoffs, the NHL regular season and playoffs, the Masters, the opening of major league and minor league baseball seasons, the Kentucky Derby, the College Baseball World Series, and many, many others have all been impacted.
The tipping point came on the evening of Wednesday, March 11 when an NBA game between our Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies was suddenly stopped just minutes before tip-off. One of the Grizzlies had tested positive for the coronavirus. Little did we know at the time that this would ignite an explosion of events that would rock the sports world.
My wife and I were at a spring training game in Mesa, Arizona that evening watching the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers on a cool desert evening when suddenly fans’ phones all over the stadium, like those all over America, started buzzing with the incredible news that an NBA game in Oklahoma City had been stopped. It was not until later that we would learn why. And little did we know at the time that we were at the last spring training game of the year before all the remaining Cactus and Grapefruit League spring training games had been cancelled.
Oklahoma State was the last local team to play this season as they managed to play Iowa State in the first round of the Big 12 tournament before it was shut down. Amazingly, even a Big East Tournament game was called at halftime in fear of the effects of the coronavirus.
Returning to Tulsa the next day, March 13, there was an anxiousness in anticipation of the OSSAA State Basketball Championships for Classes 5A and 6A being played at the Mabee Center and three other venues in the Tulsa area. We soon learned that the high school state tournaments had been postponed, the Big 12 men’s and women’s tournaments were cancelled and the NBA season had been suspended. The University of Tulsa men’s basketball team, on the bubble of a NCAA tourney berth, had traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, for the American Athletic Conference tournament only to be told of that tourney’s cancellation and immediately made a u-turn and headed back to Tulsa.
The sports dominos were falling fast and suddenly, in what was anticipated to be a great sports weekend, was no more. The coronavirus was here and making its ugly presence known.
For the last month or so, our way of life has drastically changed. Social distancing, self-isolation, mask-wearing and frequent hand washing have entered all of our lives whether we wanted them or not. Businesses have been shuttered, jobs have been lost, budgets and economies have been wrecked but most importantly of all, innocent lives have been lost.
If we all can comply with the guidelines being presented by federal, state and local officials, we will get through this nightmare. Patience, diligence and cooperation will be required and for how long, nobody knows at this time. But when the coronavirus is conquered, and no doubt it will be, life will return to a sense of normalcy. Sports and games will return. Athletes and fans will return. Life will be normal again.
It will be worth the wait.