“Basketball is secondary” as Orlando Magic await what’s next from NBA

Steve Clifford has hung his hat on being a strong communicator as he builds the Orlando Magic's foundation. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Steve Clifford has hung his hat on being a strong communicator as he builds the Orlando Magic's foundation. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The NBA season is suspended and the Orlando Magic along with every other team is in a holding pattern awaiting guidance and hoping for good news.

On a selfish tone, the NBA suspending its season could not have come at a worse time for the Orlando Magic.

The team was on a roll, finally finding some offensive rhythm and picking up wins in the process. They were looking ahead to a home-heavy part of the schedule, a chance to make the Amway Center a fortress again as they did at the end of last season and build momentum for their second straight playoff appearance.

Excitement for the team was building again.

It all stops now. Was there disappointment the team would not be able to continue this run? Was there frustration that fate had intervened to halt the Magic’s progress?


None of that mattered. None of it should matter. There are bigger things at play that concern the world beyond the basketball court.

The repeated line throughout the morning as Magic CEO Alex Martins, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and coach Steve Clifford addressed the media was: “Basketball is secondary.”

"“Make no mistake about it, this situation is so much bigger than basketball,” Martins said in a press conference on Thursday. “This is a public health crisis. It’s more important than finances, it’s more important than playing games. We have to ensure the health and safety of not just our fans, our city and our region, but our entire country comes first and are taken care of. We believe this is absolutely the right action.”"

The league is merely a small part of the response to a public health crisis and can now only do its part to slow the spread of the coronavirus any further. That means limiting large gatherings and doing all it can to keep itself and the public healthy and safe.

After confirming the positive test for the coronavirus for Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz last night, the league abruptly canceled their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then quickly moved to announce the suspension of the rest of the NBA season.

The league may have hoped to play games under limited circumstances to help prevent the spread of the disease. But with someone within the NBA family contracting the disease and the potential to spread it with the amount of travel around the country NBA teams do, suspending the season was the right thing to do.

"“It is jarring because it’s bigger than basketball,” Weltman said during a press conference Thursday. “We all hear these bits of news come across our phones and on TV. The first thing you think of is the safety of your family and those around you. For us, it’s our players and our fans. We’re all waking up to a somewhat new reality today and we have to first and foremost care about the health and safety of those around us. That’s framing everything that we talk about today.”"

It is not clear yet when the league will resume operations. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports the suspension will be at least two weeks so players who were in contact with the Jazz and any other potentially infected players can go through quarantine.

Weltman said the team is still awaiting guidance from the league on team activities and the potential length of the delay. It will not be like a lockout and players will be allowed to work out and shootaround in the team facility.

The league’s initial guidance was to keep players in town. So everyone is in a holding pattern for the future and however long the suspension and the public health crisis last. Nobody would speculate what the season will look like when it is finally ready to resume.

Magic officials met with the players shortly after their press conference with the media on Thursday to clarify any issues. But the league is still getting its bearings on where to go next.

The Magic were unfortunately in some contact with the Jazz, the team now at the center of the NBA-centered crisis.

Team officials confirmed the Magic used the same plane the Jazz had used to get to Oklahoma City to return from their trip from Memphis. But Martins said DELTA had cleaned the plane using a FAA-approved disinfectant that would kill the coronavirus. Martins said health experts told them that using the same plane after all this cleaning does not qualify as exposure to the disease.

He said no Magic players were showing symptoms for the coronavirus. CDC guidelines currently state tests should be reserved only for people showing symptoms of the disease.

Coach Steve Clifford, who left last Friday’s game in Minnesota after later being diagnosed with dehydration, said he had no thoughts he was possibly infected before he coached that game. He went to the hospital as a precaution after that game and was diagnosed with dehydration.

For the health of the players, it is all good news. At least at the moment.

"“Basketball is secondary right now,” Clifford said during Thursday’s press conference. “This is a problem for the country, for the whole world. Health is first. I think our players would agree with that too. That’s the mindset we all should have.”"

Other leagues are starting to follow suit and limit large gatherings and exposure for fans and participants.

The MLS announced it had suspended its league a minimum of 30 days — Orlando City was due to play the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Exploria Stadium — because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Orlando Solar Bears, whom the Orlando Magic operate, are awaiting guidance from the ECHL and the NHL above them later Thursday to determine whether their season will continue and in what capacity.

Martins said the team’s Food and Wine Festival, the biggest fundraiser for the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, that was scheduled for Saturday has been postponed. This is a major loss for the Magic’s charity arm as the event provides a significant amount of its funds to distribute to local charities.

Martins said the team hopes to reschedule it in the future. But today it is important to limit public gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Martins also added the team has implemented a plan to take care of hourly and part-time workers during previous lockouts and work stoppages. He said the team will again take care of those employees who rely on games to supplement their income.

There are real economic costs both for the team and the community from losing home games — and even if the team had played games behind closed doors. Martins would not speculate on those losses. There would be a time and a place to discuss those consequences. This is not the time.

The most important thing right now is the health and safety of the public and the country at large.

The Magic reminded everyone to take the CDC-recommended health precautions — washing their hands, staying home when sick and limiting contact with anyone who is showing symptoms. Everyone has a part to play to keep themselves and the public safe.

That is what the Magic and the NBA are doing by suspending its season.

"“We will get through this,” Martins said during Thursday’s press conference. “I think it will be a challenging time in the short term. We have all the confidence in our leadership and our health experts that we will get past this and in due time we will be playing NBA basketball again.”"

When we might see NBA basketball again is uncertain. But basketball is secondary right now.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.