It all happened so fast.
Last Tuesday, I rolled out of bed to record the final episode of the “Out of Bounds” podcast for winter quarter. Former Sports editor Ryan Smith and assistant Sports editor Jack Perez showed up outside my door at 10:30 a.m., and we talked about UCLA men’s basketball’s prospects in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament, which could have secured them a spot in the NCAA tournament. I would be following the team to Las Vegas to cover the event for the Daily Bruin, and I had already booked a Thursday afternoon flight.
There were already hundreds of novel coronavirus cases in the United States , but there was no reason to think that would have any impact on the Bruins’ – or my – trip to Sin City. Fifty hours until takeoff.
Later that afternoon, UCLA Athletics limited all upcoming on-campus events to essential personnel only. Pac-12s and NCAAs were still on, so my plans hadn’t changed. Forty-five hours until takeoff.
On Wednesday, the Pac-12 limited tournament attendance to only players, coaches, press and other essential workers. I was credentialed press, so I still checked in for my flight and pulled out a suitcase to pack when I woke up the next morning. Nineteen hours until takeoff.
Then, the NBA suspended the rest of its season after a player tested positive for COVID-19. Eighteen hours until takeoff.
Thursday morning, the Pac-12 finally called off the remainder of its men’s basketball tournament, following in the footsteps of the Big Ten Conference, Southeastern Conference and others. Four hours until takeoff – but my countdown didn’t really matter anymore. Too much had changed in the last 48 hours.
When American Airlines flight 2307 finally left the ground at 1:04 p.m. on Thursday, I wasn’t on board. Instead, I was still laying in bed, my eyes glued to Twitter, waiting for the last domino to fall.
Just 12 minutes after the flight I was supposed to be on went wheels up, it happened – the NCAA called off both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, and March Madness 2020 was no more.
I was hopeless, lethargic and lost. Sports are my life – my job, my hobby, my passion and hopefully, one day, my career – and I know I’m far from alone in that sense.
Everyone who had been relying on sports for entertainment, time-killing or income had it ripped away from them in a matter of days. And it had been taken away by a pathogen, invisible to the naked eye, but with effects very much visible, ruthless and devastating around the globe.
Sports and sports fans have always found a way to persevere. This time, I’m not so sure.
World wars, 9/11 and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing may have scared off fans, but sports became a way for communities to rally when times got tough. Think of Jesse Owens winning gold in front of Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Mike Piazza’s go-ahead home run 10 days after the Twin Towers fell or the Boston Red Sox’s “Boston Strong” World Series run seven years ago.
Sports have long been a way for people of all walks of life to come together and share moments of catharsis. As the world settles into varying degrees of quarantine, however, we won’t have sports to comfort us when the going gets tough.
Playing as the Utah Jazz in NBA 2K20 doesn’t feel right when the real-life Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are infected with COVID-19. Watching SportsCenter and ESPN doesn’t satisfy that need of escapism like it normally does, when all they have to talk about is the collapse of the sports world as we know it.
Scrolling through Twitter gives me a pit in my stomach, since almost every tweet is about the coronavirus and what normal life could have been like that day. I would have been in Vegas, watching Jaime Jaquez Jr., Chris Smith and company make a historic run at a Pac-12 title.
Instead, I have to settle for people sharing simulations on social media and ESPN’s bracketology for a tournament that isn’t even happening anymore.
The coronavirus and its effects reach far beyond the sports world, that much is clear. Thousands of people around the world are sick or have died already, countless industries are bleeding cash and hourly-wage workers have almost nowhere to turn.
But to anyone who says, “It’s just a game” or “Have some perspective” – keep it to yourself. You clearly have never met a sports fanatic before.
To the athletes who were robbed of a chance at glory on the biggest stage, the sports anchors and freelance writers who are out of a job for the time being, and the countless men, women and children sitting at home with no escape – I know how you feel.
There was no way to prepare for this series of unprecedented effects, and the dominoes could continue to fall indefinitely. It’s great that governing bodies are choosing to prioritize public health, but it’s hard to take solace in that when our untouchable, unifying world of sports has been drowned out by a harsh reality for the first time ever.
It all just happened so fast, and there isn’t anything we can do except wait.