Coronavirus in Oklahoma: How Oklahoma City changed the way America thinks about this pandemic
Cecilia Robinson-Woods watched the situation unfold Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena with dread.
After the game between the Thunder and Jazz was halted seconds before tipoff, the teams were ushered off the court. There was a delay, then a postponement, and while the reasons weren’t immediately known, everyone had a suspicion as to why.
Robinson-Woods, superintendent of Millwood Schools, is president of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association Board of Directors, and as soon as she saw what was happening in downtown Oklahoma City, she called the association’s executive director, David Jackson.
“This is gonna be rough,” she told him.
The OSSAA was on the eve of the biggest weekend of the year, the big-class state basketball tournaments. Robinson-Woods knew the association would need to do its own due diligence and take a long, hard look at what to do — play or postpone? But she also knew what happened at The Peake was a game changer in the hearts and minds of many.
“That situation last night,” Robinson-Woods said mid-day Thursday as the OSSAA announced state tournaments were being suspended, “brought a different level of intensity to our situation.”
It brought a different level of intensity to every situation.
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What happened Wednesday at The Peake changed the way Americans think about coronavirus. Average Janes and Joes didn't seem all that concerned about the pandemic before. Now, we see how close the danger is and how quickly the spread can happen.
Until Wednesday night, coronavirus was something happening to other people in other places.
Now, it is happening to us.
Oklahoma City was ground zero for that change.
People will long remember where they were when they heard about the situation at The Peake. The odd scenes that played out on Reno Avenue will be forever etched in our memories. A Thunder team doctor sprinting onto the court to talk to officials moments before tipoff. Players milling around their benches as referees talked with head coaches. Chris Paul waving over Joe Ingles to ask what was wrong with Rudy.
Utah big man Rudy Gobert, as we now know, tested positive for the coronavirus and prompted the NBA to postpone the Thunder-Jazz game.
It was the first of three big moments.
Thirty-seven minutes after the Thunder game was suspended, Tom Hanks announced on social media that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for coronavirus while in Australia. Hanks, of course, is a treasure in the entertainment world. An actor with few equals and many fans. A wholesome type who’s impossible to dislike.
Lots of folks would’ve thought Tom Hanks couldn’t get coronavirus. Not Tom. Not America’s Dad.
But that’s not how coronavirus works. It can get to anyone.
Thirty-two minutes after the Tom Hanks news, the NBA dropped an even bigger bombshell when it announced it was suspending the season. The league has said little publicly about what led to the decision, but the realizations that have surfaced since the news of Gobert’s positive test give us an inclination.
One infected player has touched nearly every corner of the NBA.
The Jazz played five teams since the first of the month: Cavaliers, Knicks, Celtics, Pistons and Raptors. In the days after playing the Jazz, those teams played another eight teams: Nuggets, Spurs, Bulls, Thunder, Wizards, Hawks, Pacers and Sixers.
That accounts for nearly half of the league’s teams.
And then, there were the gyms where the Jazz practiced while they were on the road and the planes they flew in and the hotels they stayed in. NBA teams often use the same gyms, planes and hotels.
Utah’s plane, for example, carried the Magic and the Grizzlies to games after the Jazz flew to Oklahoma City.
And the interconnectedness of the teams doesn't begin to address the pilots, bus drivers, cleaners, waitresses, bellhops, ushers, security, media and fans who interact with players and coaches.
All of that was a lightbulb moment for many — the NBA is but a microcosm of how tightly knit our world has become.
And if the NBA, a multibillion-dollar industry, decided to shut it down during one of the most exciting times of the season, it must be a serious situation. It must be the real deal.
Medical professionals have been saying so for months. Ditto for scientists and epidemiologists and lots of folks who have done way more than look up “coronavirus” on WebMD. But we weren’t always listening to the experts.
Now, we are.
So, we were sad when major-college conference basketball tournaments were halted, play in everything from minor-league soccer to major-league baseball was suspended and then championships in the NCAA were canceled. But we weren't mad. We wish it didn’t have to be this way, but we understand why it is.
Only a day earlier, we were living life like everything was normal — but when that game at The Peake was suspended, we knew it wasn't anymore.
That’s what Cecilia Robinson-Woods realized Wednesday night. She knew what she was watching only a few miles from home would make waves near and far. She suspected the sentiment about the severity of the coronavirus had changed.
“Even though the health department said that if you were in the arena you weren’t exposed,” she said, “mentally that’s pretty tough on people.”
That fear of the unknown was the thing that ultimately prompted the OSSAA to postpone the state basketball tournaments.
Cecilia Robinson-Woods was as disappointed as anyone. Already decked out in a power suit of Millwood blue, she had to call her high school and tell the boys basketball team to get off the bus; players and coaches were preparing to leave for their Class 3A quarterfinal.
But she understood why the tournaments had been halted.
Everyone did after what happened at The Peake.
Robinson-Woods said, “It definitely pushed it to the forefront.”
Not just in Oklahoma but across America.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.