What went on behind closed doors leading up to NBA's hiatus

By WEEI 93.7

The U.S. has been without sports for two weeks. That first one felt like a month. Somehow, the second week felt even longer.

But the events from the night where this all started felt like a blur. It was almost as if all updates came out of Oklahoma City a once. Yet the night was neverending, too.

For Jazz forward and Methuen native Georges Niang, March 11 in OKC was far from a flash. During his appearance on WEEI.com’s 5 Out podcast, Niang detailed what the night was like for Utah.

His story starts before the Jazz arrived at Chesapeake Energy Arena in OKC...

We were told that (Gobert) was getting tested for COVID-19, that this was a serious time, and that we really wanted to see whether or not he'd have it. And it was kind of the league's protocol.

So, (we) go through shootaround, go through — I mean, I took a pregame nap, and woke up and headed down to the bus. And there were whispers of them saying like, well, he didn't test for — he tested negative for a common cold or the flu and other things like that.

Then we got to the arena, didn't think anything of it, just thought like he had something — nobody thinks that (a) person on their team has the coronavirus. You know what I mean? We didn't realize how easy it was to catch it. It was just one of those things where like, ‘Oh, someone had it? Let's stay far away.’ But now that it's hit America, you know how easy it is for someone to catch it. So no one was really thinking like, ‘Oh, he has it.’ But obviously we knew there was a possibility.

So you're kind of just going into the game like, ‘Alright, Rudy's not playing. He texted us and told us that he's not gonna play because they want to see if he has COVID-19.’ He got tested for it, warm-ups go by, anthem goes by, starting lineups go by, and then all of a sudden — you know, I'm used to doing my thing on the bench until the ball gets tipped off and then nobody's tipping off. And then people are running around and they’re having a big discussion. Chris Paul is asking ‘What's up with Rudy?’ and different things like that.

Then they tell us we're all going to the locker room, and coach kind of just addresses the locker room and says, ‘Rudy has tested positive for the coronavirus.” And the game has been postponed. It all kind of started mayhem from there.

After Utah’s head coach, Quin Snyder, addressed the team, Jazz players were contained to the locker room for hours…

You just can't really get comfortable, right? Because one of your teammates has a virus that is easily spread from what we know. Right? All you hear about is how it's easily spread.

So you're sitting in the locker room looking at the guy next to you, like, ‘Do you have it?’ And he's looking at you like, ‘Do you have it?’ Does anybody have it? We're all gonna be in here for a while, so should we not touch anybody? Like should we not eat? Do we just all have it because we've been exposed to it? And it's just a high-pressure situation.

A game that is nationally televised just gets canceled, so your phones are going off. You want answers to your questions, but you want to let your family know I'm okay and I'm good. But the person that you rarely talk to just has seemed to — all those people have seemed to text you being like, ‘Hey, just like are you doing good?’ It's like, ‘Ahhh,’ you know what I mean? I'm trying to let my family know.

Then once you get past that point, I think all of us were nervous. You put on a mask and gloves and you don't want to touch anything. You want to make sure you wash your hands don't want to touch your face. But then, these are your guys. These are your people that you're around. You kind of naturally just are loosened up after like an hour or two. And you're getting different information where it's like, ‘Hey, we're going to go bring you guys to a hotel, then we're going to get tested.’ But come on. What hotel in Oklahoma City is going to take 53 potential coronavirus candidates and put them in their hotel? That's just bad for business.

So, clearly, no hotels were picking up our phone calls. And they're like, we might fly back. Then they're like, we're not gonna fly back. Then guys are like, well, I'm gonna get a private plane, and we're looking at that — you can't get a (flight) staff to fly a person who potentially could have coronavirus. 

All these things happen and at the end, (after) probably three hours they're like, ‘Hey, you can take your mask off. It's only given to someone through droplets, you know, sneezing, coughing, all that.’ And then you eventually, kind of — I don't want to say it's like a false hope, but we're all at this point like, ‘Hey, if I got it, you got it. If you got it, I got it. So, what’s the point? Why are we stressing? As long as we don't give this to our loved ones, we'll be fine, right?’

Then the test people finally get there. I remember it was like midnight, so that was like five hours in the locker room. And they come into like full suits. Mask, facemask, whole coveralls. They’re in there, and they’re calling out the names of people to get tested, reading us off how long the tests are gonna take and how many they can take at a time. And you just want to get your test done because you're like, ‘I want to know if I have it, so I can get home and get out of here.’ The NBA season was canceled or suspended, I'm in Oklahoma, I want to go home if I have this. I want to be home and in my own bed, taking care of myself.

So you get tested. It's a 10-second swab on your throat and then a 10-second swab and your nose. The nose one was really painful. It almost felt like it was like five inches of a rod being stuck up my nose and tickling my brain, so that was a little much.

The tests end up getting done in like an hour, hour and a half. We finally got a hotel to take us and we ended up staying up the whole night and talking to doctors talking to people that had different opinions, waiting on our results. I think our results came in at like nine the next day, where we got a phone call and (they) said if we were negative or positive. Obviously, there was only one positive, the rest of us were negative. And that's kind of when, you know, it got aired out that more than one person in the NBA had the coronavirus.

At that point, you don't want to be looked at in the public eye as someone who's had coronavirus, or you just don't want to have it because you don't want to be 14 days quarantine. Little did we know that didn't mean anything after that because we still had to be quarantined after.

It was just one of those things where obviously you had a lot on your mind, and I think you become so emotionally drained and exhausted you finally end up going to sleep. I ended up getting to bed at like four or five in the morning after talking to people on the phone, and them giving me their well wishes and answering texts and (I) finally fell asleep.

Got a call, said I was good to go. From there on out I was ecstatic. I called my family my friends. Let them know that I was OK, I tested negative that I could go home on the team flight. (We) head back and then everything hits the internet.

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