Former Thunder player: “Sooner or later someone was going to get it”
Danilo Gallinari was at the point of first contact when the COVID-19 dominoes started to fall.
The Atlanta Hawks forward was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2019-20 season, and he had to spend more than four hours locked in a locker room the night of March 11, 2020, wondering what was going on. I was wondering if anyone had tested positive for what was called the ‘new’ coronavirus at the time.
Someone had. Fifteen minutes before kick-off, jazz center Rudy Gobert – who thought he had a cold he could play against – became the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus. Four minutes after the news broke, Commissioner Adam Silver put the season on hiatus, making the NBA the continent’s first major professional sports league to close. The season was never over.
Gobert will forever be synonymous with when COVID-19 became a reality in America. Even some of his own teammates, for a while, blamed him for introducing the virus among them. But Gallinari does not see it that way.
“Sure, that was the first big deal and stuff. But you knew it would happen sooner or later when you stand there, knowing how easy it is to flaunt it,” he said Tuesday night. in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune after Jazz’s 110-98 win over the Hawks.
“Sooner or later someone was going to get it”
Gallinari had closely followed the spread and the damage caused by the coronavirus for months before Gobert-gate. His native Italy experienced one of the biggest epidemics in the world at the time. Doctors had to decide who lives and who dies. And the mother of one of his best friends fell victim to the disease.
Just a day before the match against the Jazz, about 24 hours after Gobert playfully and ultimately regrettably touched journalists’ recorders and microphones in a post-shootaround interview, Gallinari had felt he believed the matches of the NBA should be closed to fans.
“I wasn’t predicting anything, or I wasn’t a magician” he told ESPN. “I was just telling everyone that what was happening in Italy was something very possible in the United States as well.”
So, no, he doesn’t put the blame on Gobert’s broad shoulders.
Two seasons – an outfit in a bubble – and almost two years have passed since then, however. The players returned to the field. The fans are back in the arenas. But something else has also returned: an increase in coronavirus cases due to the rise of the delta variant.
Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Utah are on average among adolescents and nearly one in five people tested are positive for the virus. These figures are similar to those in January, when vaccines were not widely available.
The statistics relate to Gallinari, but he also maintains a glimmer of optimism.
“I think it’s going to slowly get back to normal,” he said.
He said he felt safe playing in the NBA, which requires players and staff to be vaccinated or quarantined and tested daily. Most arenas require spectators to wear masks at a minimum. At Vivint Arena, fans are required to show proof of vaccination prior to entering.
And while he’s not who they’re looking for and the outcome wasn’t what the Hawks wanted, Gallinari said he enjoyed hearing Utah fans cheer on Gobert and his company on Tuesday night.
“Utah… is one of the best places to play basketball, I think,” he said. “The fans are amazing. It’s a basketball town.