Welcome to a world without sports

Utah Jazz fans react after an announcement that the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed before tip off at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Utah Jazz fans react after an announcement that the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed before tip off at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the world without sports. Swiftly, over just a few days, the COVID-19 virus grew from an illness affecting a few cruise ships and nursing homes on the West Coast to a pandemic shutting down parades, colleges, church services and, yes, sporting events all across America.

I don’t know how the virus multiplied itself, but its impact grows exponentially by the hour.

Wednesday was when floodgates opened.

We gasped in the afternoon when the NCAA announced it will ban fans from its upcoming basketball championships. Can it really be called “March Madness” when the only sounds in the arena are squeaking sneakers and cursing coaches?

Hours later — after two members of the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus — the NBA suspended its entire schedule for the foreseeable future.

We’ve never seen anything like this. I’m writing this column on Thursday, fully expecting that by the time you read it, Major League Baseball will send fans (and players) home from spring training. Hockey will go on hiatus. The Masters Tournament is in jeopardy.

We will have to live without our beloved sports for a while. And it’s going to be weird.

I can’t recall a time when watching or playing games wasn’t a huge part of my life. I imagine you’re the same. My seasons are defined by the teams I follow on a daily basis.

March is supposed to be the Flyers and Sixers gearing up for a playoff run — well, at least the hockey team looked poised for that this year. It’s watching dispatches from Florida, or heading to Clearwater to get foolishly hopeful about the Phillies.

March is filling out bracket pools and meeting friends at a crowded bar for the opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament. It’s likely when your rec hoops league gets serious or you’re pulling the old glove from the closet to get ready for softball season.

For now, anyway, the glove stays in storage. No large gatherings likely means no beer league sports. It’s time to peruse that Netflix schedule or learn where the local library is located because we’re all going to have too much time on our hands stuck at home.

No rational person should argue against what is happening here. From what medical experts say, two NBA players with virus symptoms can quickly expose every player, every arena worker, every media member and ultimately, every fan.

Nevermind how thoroughly 20,000 fans scrub their hands in hot water — some will end up carriers. The six degrees of separation factor is in effect here.

Give credit to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for quickly addressing the crisis. He showed our national leaders what bold and decisive means. Better to err toward safety when the alternative is  . . .  well, just look at the reports from Italy.

And credit to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who considered the hundreds of hourly arena workers who’ll be hurt economically. “We’ll put together a program for them,” Cuban said Wednesday night. I hope Sixers owner Joshua Harris shows the same magnanimity  — but I doubt it.

The cliché goes that sports are inconsequential in the scheme of things. I’ve never believed that.

From little kids gaining life lessons to shut-ins finding something to get excited about, sports fills a huge and great role in this country. Locally, it’s part of what makes Philadelphia a genuine, tight-knit community.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But for now, at least, we’re going to have to get by in a world devoid of sports. Somewhere in this house, I must have a book to read.

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