I was six rows from the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It was March 11, 2020, and the Thunder were set to play against the Utah Jazz. A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to the game — he had two tickets, and the seats were really close to the action.
I had some anxiety about the novel coronavirus, but it was difficult to know exactly what was coming. I debated about whether it was a good idea to go to the game, but eventually told my friend I would go.
We walked into the arena a few minutes before tipoff and made our way to our seats. I’ve gone to a lot of Thunder games in the last few years, but I had never been seated this close.
The pregame festivities proceeded like they always do. Players from both teams were shooting around, some were stretching with team trainers. The Thunder’s mascot, Rumble, did the ceremonial beating of his bass drum at half court before the players left their huddles. The fans clapped along with Rumble, as they always do.
However, something just felt off. Something was telling me that we shouldn’t be there.
That’s why it didn’t surprise me when, as both teams took the floor, Thunder team doctor Donnie Strack ran onto the floor to halt the game.
The Thunder’s PA team announced the game was temporarily delayed. Fans around me expressed their frustration and confusion, and wondered how long the game would be delayed. But we all started to check our phones and our Twitter accounts to see the rumors that Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. No one wanted to say it, but everyone in the arena knew there was no way the game was going to be played.
After what felt like an eternity of waiting, it was announced that the game was postponed.
Walking out of the arena felt truly surreal. The Thunder PA kept telling us we were safe, but it didn’t feel that way. We were all anxious. We were all wondering what was coming next.
As I got in my car to leave the arena, friends and family began calling me one after the other to check on me and to ask what happened at the arena. It almost felt like I was leaving the scene of a horrific car accident. A friend relayed the news over the phone that the NBA had suspended its season.
I was worried about my coworkers Clay Horning and Kyle Phillips, who I knew were closer to the Jazz players than I was.
By the time I made it home, reality had set in: the pandemic was here, and I was at the game where it held its welcome party.
A year later, the effects of that game are still being felt.
I’ve covered several Thunder games this season, and I’m still getting used to this new normal. The Thunder, like many teams in the NBA, are not allowing fans at its games this season. With no fans, the Thunder has opted to play artificial crowd noise, which is loud, but serves as a reminder that things haven’t been the same since that Jazz game.
All media members are required to follow strict COVID-19 protocols this season. Everyone has to take a health survey on their phone prior to arriving; you must go through a specific entrance; body temperatures are taken by arena staff; media members are seated six feet apart and separated by plexiglass.
Rumble hasn’t played his drum this season. Fan-favorite timeout activities like the $20,000 halfcourt shot have been replaced with silence, except for the music that plays over the speakers.
It’s hard not to think about that Thunder-Jazz game every time I’m at the arena.
Hopefully soon, the NBA and the rest of the world can return to normalcy. But for me, that game will always stand out as a day I will never forget.