Culture News

Coronavirus Puts Basketball into March Madness

COVID-19 causes NBA to suspend season

Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz who became the first NBA player who tested positive for coronavirus.

Photo by Paul Holcomb

Update:

The NCAA has canceled March Madness. Mark Emmert has wisely canceled 2020 basketball tournaments with the following statement:

"Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men's and women's 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships. This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities."

COVID-19 disease, better known as the coronavirus, has now affected three high profile athletes in the past two days.

Yesterday Daniele Rugani, who plays for the Italian soccer club Juventus, became the first confirmed case of coronavirus among professional athletes. Later that day, NBA player Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz became the second confirmed case. This morning Gobert's teammate Donovan Mitchell also tested positive for coronavirus. Sources from within the Jazz organization had stated that Gobert acted inappropriately in the locker room by handling others' personal property and invading people's personal space. Gobert had even joked about the coronavirus prior to testing positive.

NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, was quick to act after learning of Gobert's positive test last night, making the decision to suspend all league play indefinitely following the conclusion of Wednesday night's schedule.

Prior to any players being diagnosed with the coronavirus, Silver and teams had considered other precautions amid the health scare, such as playing games to empty arenas. The Golden State Warriors had already announced that it would do so, but now, with the league suspended, we won't see what that would've looked or felt like as a viewer. The NCAA March Madness Tournament had previously decided to play in front of empty seats and still play games; however, all five of the major NCAA conferences (the Big Ten, SEC, PAC-12, Big 12, and ACC) have canceled their individual tournaments after the World Health Organization classified the coronavirus as a global pandemic.

Now, it would be surprising, if not inappropriate, for NCAA president, Mark Emmert, to move ahead with the March Madness tournament, as it would present a huge risk to the student athletes involved to contract the coronavirus. This will be a difficult decision for Emmert to make as the March Madness Tournament brings in revenue of around $1 billion and represents around 75% of the NCAA's annual revenue as a whole. Thus, without the tournament being played, there may be a trickle down effect to collegiate athletics as a whole as a result. The NCAA's revenue is a shared operating budget that funds all athletic programs across the country, and if the Men's Basketball tournament isn't able to earn close to what's projected, smaller programs are likely to take the hit, from water polo to bowling, before football and basketball funding gets cut.

Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star, was recorded at his team's game last night receiving the news about the decision to suspend the NBA season. His candid reaction likely mirrored most of our own, and the shock on players' faces as they learned the news mid-game was reiterated on social media by some of its biggest stars.




In reality, Silver and the NBA made the right decision to suspend play and avoid facilitating environments where the coronavirus can be spread. Major events such as Coachella and SXSW have been canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus, as any large congregation of people can cause the disease to spread rapidly. The fact that the disease is dangerous and potentially deadly to small children and the elderly means that anyone who becomes a carrier is a danger to others. While I am an avid sports fan, especially of basketball, and was looking forward to the start of the NBA playoffs and March Madness tournament, I'm encouraged that the NBA has taken the necessary steps to do its part in attempting to limit the spread of coronavirus and do their part as an influential global ambassador.

With the start of the Major League Baseball season, NFL training camps, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics all right around the corner, the NBA has set a high standard to how sports leagues and organizations can be proactive in protecting their players, coaches, and fans. Adam Silver has done his due diligence, collecting the significant information, having contingency plans in place, and acting swiftly and definitively before making a difficult decision to protect people first, rather than worrying about lost revenue.

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Pete Rose and his signature head first slide into third base during his playing days with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Getty Images

An irregular blip in the news cycle sees Major League Baseball dominating headlines in the sports world in the middle of winter.

We are approaching that time when players report for Spring Training in warmer climates across the country, but professional baseball is already in the hot seat. In November The Athletic originally broke the story of how the Houston Astros organization had devised and executed an elaborate sign-stealing scheme throughout the 2017 season, which ended with the Astros winning the World Series. Mike Fiers, then a pitcher with the club, confirmed the cheating both in the regular and postseason by using center field cameras to provide real-time feeds to the team's dugout, which allowed them to relay messages to hitters that tipped what pitches were coming.

Major League Baseball's Commissioner, Rob Manfred, had implemented rule changes prior to the start of the 2019 season, as it became known amongst league officials that as many as six teams were potentially using technology to relay signals to their players. The MLB made it very clear that this use of tech wouldn't be allowed under the new rules and that managers and general managers would be held accountable for compliance. On Thursday new, yet unsubstantiated, information came out regarding the Houston Astros' use of "buzzers" that acted as alternative signals for hitters instead of the old method of trash can banging. Photos of what looks like a small device protruding from underneath Jose Altuve's jersey have been circulating across social media platforms, along with plenty of angry takes from MLB players and fans.

Jose Altuve after hitting the series-winning home run in the 2019 ALCS to send the Astros to the World Series.

The aftermath has brought sweeping punishment for the organization and those associated with it since 2017. A.J. Hinch (manager) and Jeff Luhnow (general manager) of the Houston organization were both fired on January 13, but the scandal's reach wasn't limited to the Astros team. Alex Cora, who was a bench coach with the Astros in 2017, took the role of manager with the Boston Red Sox in 2018 and went on to win a World Series title in his first season with the club. Carlos Beltran played with the Astros in 2017 and just this offseason accepted the role of manager with the New York Mets. Both Cora and Beltran have been relieved of their duties, as well.

Carlos Beltran during his time as a player with the Astros and after accepting the manager position with the New York Mets.Paul J. Bereswill, Charles Wenzelberg

The Houston Astros have also had major penalties levied against them, which includes loss of draft picks, the maximum fine of $5 million, and one-year suspensions for both Hinch and Luhnow. The club is currently scrambling to find replacements for them just a few months before the start of the regular season. The Astros players will certainly–and deservedly–receive plenty of criticism, if not hatred, from opposing fans and maybe even opposing players.

Major League Baseball has had many scandals and instances of cheating throughout its history, dating all the way back to 1877 with the Louisville Grays, when some players were found to be intentionally losing games for personal profit. Most recently, the steroid era of baseball has resulted in mandated tests of players for performance-enhancing drugs. Many of the games' greatest historical players have been prevented from being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens.

And then there's Pete Rose.

Rose, Major League Baseball's all-time hits leader, accepted a voluntary lifetime ban from professional baseball on August 24, 1989, for his role in placing bets on his team during his time as the Cincinnati Reds' manager. In his autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, Rose did finally admit to placing bets during that time but only on his team to win. Rose is famously quoted as saying, "I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball," and he played like it, too.

Now he's asked to be reinstated. In a 19-page letter submitted to Rob Manfred, Rose's lawyer makes his case:

"[I]n recent years, intentional and covert acts by current and past owners, managers, coaches, and players altered the outcomes of numerous games, including the World Series, and illegally enhanced both team and player performance," the letter reads. "It has never been suggested, let alone established, that any of Mr. Rose's actions influenced the outcome of any game or the performance of any player. Yet for the thirty-first year and counting, he continues to suffer a punishment vastly disproportionate to those who have done just that.

"Given the manner in which Major League Baseball has treated and continues to treat other egregious assaults on the integrity of the game, Mr. Rose's ongoing punishment is no longer justifiable as a proportional response to his transgressions."

For as much as professional baseball has gotten wrong since its inception, they have a chance to do something right and induct Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame. Last June, Rose told Stuart Varney that he didn't believe that he would ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame while he was alive.

While this is probably still true, baseball could stand some good publicity right now, with current stars embroiled in a widespread cheating scandal. If anything, the flagrant cheating executed by the Astros highlights that it's high time to forgive Rose for his minor indiscretion. If Rob Manfred were to announce the removal of Pete Rose's lifetime ban, it could result in the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame to change their stance on Rose's ban. As Pete Rose approaches 79-years-old, time is running out for him to experience the honor that has been withheld from him as one of baseball's greatest players.

Pete Rose Major League Baseball's all-time hits leader with 4,256. Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Baseball fans are typically traditionalists and protective over the sanctity of the sport. As Terrance Mann told Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball." But the sad progression of how players and managers desperately gain competitive advantages have blackened the eyes of baseball for the better part of its existence. The national pastime was once held sacred, and every young kid dreamed of stepping up to the plate in Game 7 of the World Series with the bases loaded, their team down by 3 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning. But none of them envisioned hitting that game-winning grand slam with the help of cheating.

CULTURE

Why John Beilein Called His Players “Thugs”: Boomers Shouldn’t Coach the NBA

In today's NBA, coaches and front offices need to be aligned with their players' interests.

The most recent sports debacle surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers organization isn't just about losing (the team is currently sitting with a 11-27 record, the fourth-worst mark in the NBA).

First-year head coach John Beilein made headlines when an unidentified source reported that in a Wednesday team film session, Beilein made a comment about his players' recent performance, referring to them as "a bunch of thugs." While it may seem harmless on the surface, you must take into account the audience that Beilein was speaking to.

NBA locker rooms are a unique environment. There are typically only 13 to 15 players that travel to games, and the league itself is often referred to by its players as a brotherhood. Eight of the Cavaliers' current thirteen players are black men under the age of thirty, five of whom make considerably more money than coach Beilein will this season.

Coach Beilein had never been part of that brotherhood until this season. Yes, he is a highly decorated coach at every level of basketball, starting with Newfane High School in 1975 and taking his first collegiate head coaching position at Erie Community College in 1978. Over the course of the next 40 years, Beilein amassed 829 collegiate wins, becoming one of only six Division 1 coaches with 700 wins or more. But during that time, programs (including the most prominent) that were once accustomed to seeing their players blossom from their freshman season until their graduation all bought into the "one and done" philosophy. Popularized by infamous coach John Calipari during his time at the University of Kentucky, "one and done" is a recruiting strategy whereby top high school prospects are brought in as one-year rental players without any plan to play at the school beyond their freshman season. The NBA requires individuals to be one year removed from their high school graduation class year before being eligible to be selected by a team. There is no doubt that coaches' roles at both the collegiate and NBA levels have become more difficult, and that requires a new type of thinking in order to balance the personalities, egos, and potential that come along with the talent.

In Beilein's apology, he lamented that it was simply an error of enunciation and that he meant to say "slugs," so as to say they were playing slowly. The mistake wasn't one of enunciation but rather the estimation that Beilein would be able to overcome the cultural gap that exists between himself and the young players he has been hired to lead.

Before this season with the Cavs, Coach Beilein, at 66, had never coached a player old enough to rent a car without having to pay surcharges. He took over a roster that was mostly comprised of players still on rookie contracts. Maybe that's why Koby Altman, Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager, selected Beilein in the first place, thinking that a seasoned college coach can help the continued development of players who are still of college-age. But, ultimately, in today's NBA, coaches and front offices need to be aligned with their players' interests.

If executives and coaching staff cannot relate to their players, they will not last long at their respective helms. Of the current 30 NBA head coaches, 12 of them are from the baby boomer generation. Only five of them have played professionally either in the NBA or overseas. On the other hand, two of the newest head coaching hires are Memphis' Taylor Jenkins and Minnesota's Ryan Saunders, who are only 35 and 33, respectively. This shows that a lot of organizations are recognizing that they need to be hiring coaches that can relate to the types of players and, more importantly, the personalities that they are tasked to manage.

Former players who have been in pro locker rooms are more adept at handling their young superstars, because they've been around them before. Steve Kerr, for instance, was bred to navigate a locker room with Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant from his time with the Chicago Bulls, back when the likes of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman were his teammates. Also, the injection of young coaches follows the model of what the Miami Heat chose to do when they picked Erik Spoelstra to take over at 38-years-old. Handpicked by Pat Riley to coach the Dwayne Wade-led team, Riley had this to say about his decision: "This game is now about younger coaches who are technologically skilled, innovative, and bring fresh new ideas."

On Thursday's episode of The Jump, Chauncey Billups and Kendrick Perkins, who are both former NBA players and NBA Champions, discussed Beilein's lackluster apology. Neither minced words, giving their sentiments on the matter as a black players who are all too familiar with the connotations of the term "thug." Billups and Perkins both alluded to the fact that Beilein has "lost the locker room," meaning he's lost respect from his players. Remember that Beilein's comments could have only been leaked by a player, coach, or organizational member. Recent outbursts by the team's star player, Kevin Love, at both Beilein and GM Koby Altman are signs that there is internal turmoil, and it's past the point of fixing.

While Altman backed Coach Beilein and stated that the team will be moving forward with him as head coach, it isn't difficult to foresee his time in Cleveland, or the NBA, running out before the end of the season. I don't believe that John Beilein is a racist. I don't believe that he is a bigot. But there is no doubt that John Beilein doesn't belong in the NBA coaching ranks, and his termination is imminent. I even feel bad for the guy because he's going to be coined a racist when it's more likely a case of a misunderstanding of semantics (it's like when an older woman refers to me as "that nice Oriental boy"). But the NBA is a player's league. Old hats like Beilein are best to stay in the familiar pastures of the college game, where they can be the face of the program and a pillar of their university. It's not a bad thing; it's just that these different jobs require different kinds of people. I hope John Beilein returns to the college game and is able to rectify his misstep. But until then, somebody please give him a thug...I meant hug.