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NBA fans who were incredulous at the professional basketball league suspending its remaining games because a player has tested positive for the coronavirus reacted in collective agony when finding out their favorite sport was shelved for the rest of the season.

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Utah Jazz star player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed on Wednesday with the illness also known as COVID-19, likely sending a sense of panic throughout the league and anyone else who may have had direct contact with the 7-foot-1 center from France.

 

Seemingly as soon as the news broke of the NBA suspending its season, a rumbling broke out across social media about previous measures the league has taken to respond to public health threats. In fact, many focused on one measure in particular — when the NBA allowed Earvin “Magic” Johnson to play in 1992 after he had been diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Magic even went on to compete internationally in the 1992 Olympics Summer Games.

Regardless of how false the purported equivalence, fans noted that back then — much like with the coronavirus — researchers were in their relative infancy of learning about HIV and AIDS. Still, even with the rumors about the sexually transmitted disease that remains without a cure-all vaccine more than 30 years after it was discovered, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern never suspended any games and even invited Johnson back to participate in the NBA All-Star game in 1992 — a game in which he won the MVP award.

Similar to Johnson and his HIV diagnosis, Gobert stood in stark contrast to the profiles of people who were coming down with the coronavirus. Back in the early 1990s, the false narrative surrounding HIV and AIDS was that only homosexuals were at risk. Likewise, with the coronavirus, it has been reported that people in their 50s and older with pre-existing conditions were the most vulnerable. The diagnoses of Johnson and now Gobert effectively served as myth-busters for their respective conditions.

But another thing they undeniably had in common was that both HIV and the coronavirus are extremely contagious, though they have major differences in ways they were transmitted.

Instead, this time around NBA teams and players are self-quarantining out of an abundance of precaution that just didn’t really seem to be there back when Magic announced he had HIV and retired.

To be clear, there was plenty of resistance by NBA players back in 1992 to Johnson’s return to the league following his retirement in 1991. Chances are that many players would have chosen to sit out if the NBA did not suspend its season, echoing a similar threat made by NBA poster child LeBron James to do just that if fans were prohibited from attending games. So in once sense, the NBA had little recourse other than to end the season.

Did current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver really have a choice other than suspending the season after Gobert’s coronavirus diagnosis? That answer was unclear. But on the same day that the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus had become a global pandemic, Silver’s decision seemed to be the most prudent.

But back in 1992, Stern’s decision to welcome Johnson back to the league was able to “change the world,” the NBA legend tweeted back in January after Stern died.

Of course, people can get the coronavirus from shaking hands, and it can be transmitted through sweat and perspiration, two constants in professional basketball. And that seems to be the major difference in responses from past and current NBA leadership to public health crises that have threatened the game they are and were charged with overseeing.

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