Saturday should have been a phenomenal day of watching live or televised sports.
For athletes and coaches, it should have been a memorable day of competing for Oklahoma high school basketball championships, but the Mabee Center was empty.
On ESPN, there was no live college basketball because there is no college basketball. Instead of a conference-tournament telecast, there was a Conor McGregor fight replay.
On CBS, there was a replay of the 2016 Big Ten championship basketball game.
On ABC, there was the Christian Laettner 30 for 30.
On NBC, there was not live coverage of the Players Championship golf tournament — one of the premier events on the PGA Tour calendar. The 2020 Players Championship was canceled after Thursday’s first round. On Saturday afternoon, NBC showed a replay of the 2019 Players Championship.
Thunder fans didn’t get to watch Oklahoma City host Utah on Wednesday or Minnesota on Friday. On Sunday, the Thunder was scheduled to have visited the Washington Wizards.
In an unprecedented disruption of an unexpectedly special season, Thunder players are inactive and confined to Oklahoma City.
A few hours after it was announced that the NBA season had been suspended indefinitely, there was the Thursday postponement of the Oklahoma high school basketball tournaments.
The result: an empty, quiet, demoralizing weekend.
No one knows whether this coronavirus freeze on our sports routine will be extended for a few more days, a few weeks or a few months.
On Saturday morning, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum announced a ban — effective through April 15 — on all gatherings of at least 250 people at city properties and facilities.
On Friday and Saturday, some coaches and athletic directors speculated that the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association might conduct state basketball championships April 2-4.
The Mabee Center is owned and operated by Oral Roberts University. If ORU were to stand in line on the ban of large arena crowds, then of course there would be the possibility that championship games could be played in a mostly empty Mabee Center.
At this point, there are many, many more possibilities than certainties. There really are no certainties.
Serving as an unofficial spokesman for all athletes who didn’t get to play in Oklahoma state-tournament games, Booker T. Washington senior Bryce Thompson recalled the Thursday moment when he was informed by teammate Trey Phipps that there would be no basketball this weekend.
“It feels super weird, to do all of that work in the season and to prepare for this,” said Thompson, who has signed to play next-level basketball for the Kansas Jayhawks. “The whole team was ready. We were hungry. It was breathtaking to find out we weren’t going to play.”
Thompson was jarred twice on Thursday. Four hours after the OSSAA postponed the high school tournaments — and postponed Booker T. Washington’s bid to repeat as the Class 6A champion — McDonald’s All-American game organizers announced the cancellation of their April 1 event in Houston.
McDonald’s All-American distinction goes to only 24 girls and 24 boys each year. It’s the ultimate individual prize for a high school basketball player. Thompson was only the 10th Oklahoma male athlete to have been so honored, but he’s the first who won’t get the actual McDonald’s game experience.
“I kind of expected (the McDonald’s cancellation) because every other thing was being canceled,” Thompson said.
He has sweet mementos like his McDonald’s jersey and shoes (each of which is embossed with the McDonald’s tagline “I’m lovin’ it”), but Thompson no longer can look forward to what would have been the ESPN-televised All-American game in Houston.
The coaches with whom I exchanged messages on Saturday expressed concern about whether the state tournaments eventually would be played, and about the challenge of keeping athletes engaged and committed to sustaining their physical conditioning.
The conditioning aspect is huge. In Classes 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A and 2A, a total of 80 teams — girls and boys — were to have played this weekend. If they play again at all this season, it wouldn’t happen before the April 2-4 window. That would result in a tremendous gap between last week’s area-tournament games and the state contests.
Most schools are on spring break next week. Starting on Sunday and continuing at least through next Sunday — because of the concern centered on the spread of the coronavirus — all Tulsa Public Schools gyms are locked and inaccessible for athletes.
Phipps, who signed with OU in November, found an open, private gym for two workouts on Friday and one more on Saturday. He didn’t stop until he had converted on 800 shots. Coaches are hopeful that their athletes continue to play in pickup games and stress their lungs, even while not knowing whether their season has ended.
If the Hornets had prevailed in a Thursday quarterfinal and a Friday semifinal, Phipps and his teammates would have been involved in a championship game on Saturday night.
Instead, Phipps and his father, Booker T. coach Conley Phipps, were at a Mexican restaurant, dining on cheese enchiladas.
No one loves Mexican food more than me, but I’d much prefer snacking on Mabee Center popcorn while watching high school teams compete for titles.
The Big 12 Tournament championship game was to have been televised by ESPN at 6 p.m. Saturday. As it no longer was a viewing option, I surfed through my usual go-to sports channels and had to decide whether to watch a documentary on Serena Williams, a documentary on Roger Staubach, a documentary on the 1971-72 Lakers or an infomercial about a cordless vacuum cleaner.