March 11 is frequently invoked as the night the sports world stopped, as it was then that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA season was put on hiatus — with myriad other leagues soon to follow.
However, that evening’s events may now also be seen in a positive light, as the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association (NBATA) named the Utah Jazz athletic training staff the co-recipients of the 2019-20 Joe O’Toole/David Craig Athletic Training Staff of the Year Award — along with with the training staff of the Oklahoma City Thunder — for their efforts in handling the NBA’s first COVID-19 case.
Those on the Jazz staff being honored include Mike Elliott (vice president of performance health care), Eric Waters (head athletic trainer), Erik Phillips (director of performance), Barnett Frank (director of performance science), and Jordan Harding (performance coordinator).
The Jazz and Thunder staffs are being recognized for their “diligence and expertise in handling the first NBA case of COVID-19, which included managing the testing of players and staff and coordinating their safe return home.”
The award is nominated and voted on by NBATA members, who consider “an extraordinary act, volunteer activities, on-court/off-court athlete care, providing athletic training education, other awards or recognitions for exceptional achievement, providing medical care in the Olympics, or induction into the NATA Hall of Fame” among the criteria.
The Jazz were set to play the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on March 11, though tipoff was delayed. It turned out the Jazz were awaiting the results of a novel coronavirus test for Gobert, who had been displaying signs of illness. When the test came back positive, fans were asked to exit the building, the game was called off, and the season was immediately suspended.
After the teams came off the floor, Oklahoma health officials came to the arena to test the Jazz players, staff, and traveling personnel (including media) for COVID-19. Thunder personnel were also tested. The next morning, the Jazz announced that another player had tested positive, and All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell confirmed it to be himself.
The Jazz and Thunder staffs subsequently worked with Utah state leaders and the Utah Department of Health to arrange travel home the following day for those who tested negative.