March Sadness

The darkest timeline is getting a little dimmer. Coronavirus and the lack of a coordinated response from global governments has taken away our sports.

First, international soccer banned fans from games. Then as the virus spread throughout Italy, Serie A postponed the season altogether.

Then Champions League games were postponed. The NBA stepped up next and went on hiatus for at least the next month. The NCAA dragged their feet but finally followed in the league’s footsteps and canceled the NCAA Tournaments. The NHL, MLS, XFL, and MLB have followed suit. The PGA canceled all events and now the famous Masters Tournament is even being postponed. This is not the version of March Madness that anyone was hoping for. This is real.

I’m about to be 29 years old and the only time I can remember a work stoppage happening midseason like this was after 9/11 when the NFL and MLB postponed games for a week. The biggest difference between then and now was that there was never any doubt that those seasons would resume.

We knew the NFL season would just last a week longer than normal. Ditto for Major League Baseball. But whole seasons are being put on pause and events are now canceled. This is supposed to be the most exciting time of the year for fans of the NBA, college hoops, hockey, and international soccer. Instead, we may never get a conclusion.

The NBA was already grinding through a very weird season. Before the season even tipped off, the league angered the Chinese by standing behind Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet, jeopardizing their close relationship with the regime and business community in China. Once the season began so much firepower was missing as injuries sidelined Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Klay Thompson, Zion Williamson, Paul George, and Kyrie Irving for extended periods.

The media seemed lost without a compelling narrative of frustrated stars forcing moves elsewhere to sell. Commentators nationwide bellyached over the continued changes in the style of play as pace and space and 5 out lineups came to dominate the league. Then you had the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and several others in a tragic helicopter crash.

That seemed to cast a pall over the league and its millions of admirers as one of the most successful players of all time passed just as he was figuring out the next phase of his life, post-basketball. 

Kobe’s death seemed to galvanize the Lakers towards a championship. They already had one of the best 5 teams in the league, but playing in honor of the Mamba has given them extra motivation. I would’ve put money on them winning the title before the games stopped.

Now, who knows? Guys could come back out of shape and get injured after the period of inaction. A work stoppage midseason could throw everything into chaos. We could wind up with a Nuggets-Celtics Final for all we know (both teams are fairly young, have good depth, in the top half of their conferences). Mark Cuban says the season could restart as late as August. Will we still care by then?

At least the NBA season might continue on. The NCAA’s season is done as the tournaments for men and women were canceled Thursday night. This was another strange season for college basketball fans as no elite teams really emerged. Even the blue-bloods looked mediocre, like Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke all lost a handful of games they should’ve won.

Especially Kentucky. My god, how do you lose to Evansville and Tennessee at home? Someone had to be point-shaving. But I feel for the seniors like Cassius Winston, Myles Powell, Payton Pritchard, and others who won’t get the chance to play in one final tournament before graduation. I feel for the freshmen like Anthony Bennett and Vernon Carey who will miss the chance to play meaningful games before turning pro.

This felt like the year that some middling team could’ve snuck up and won the title, similar to UConn in 2011. Now the season ends without a champion. 

Soccer is probably at the most perplexing point in all of this. Tuesday night’s Champions League gave us two thrilling results as Atletico upset defending champions Liverpool and PSG came from behind to beat Borussia Dortmund. Both teams have had their share of demons in the tournament, so the wins were massive. But now there’s no telling if they’ll get to build on their victories. UEFA announced that all tournaments have been postponed indefinitely.

Domestic leagues have suspended play as well as players and coaches across Europe are testing positive for the virus. While the Premier League was sown up months ago for Liverpool, the other leagues were still in play. We may not get to see if Barcelona can hold off Madrid for another title, or if RB Leipzig or Dortmund could catch Bayern, or if Lazio could shock the world and end Juventus’ reign of dominance atop Serie A. We’re just left on “To Be Continued” for the foreseeable future. 

As the sporting world grinds to a halt, it could create a massive opportunity for e-sports. Many of the major leagues have already canceled events to contain the virus. However, if the leagues can figure out how to hold events remotely and can air them on Twitch, ESPN, and Turner Sports, they may be able to cushion the blow for sports fans who aren’t ready to take the plunge into Love is Blind.

Do I expect all sports fans to fall in love with League of Legends or Call of Duty during this period? Not necessarily. But it could capture many people that may not have tuned in if March Madness was going on, or if the Lakers and Rockets were playing. If the content is there, e-sports leagues can go mainstream. 

Or maybe it’s a time for people to take a step back and evaluate their relationship with sports. Use this time to work on yourself. Instead of staying up until 1 AM for west coast basketball, go to sleep early. Instead of getting into arguments about Lebron with Warriors fans on Twitter, you go slide in some piece’s DMs for a possible quarantine and chill.

Check-in on your parents. Try meditation and journaling. Maybe give Love is Blind a chance. A lot of people like it! Take advantage of this because it’s unlikely we’ll experience something this extraordinary again.

What You Expect?