Oh, Rudy: Rudy Gobert, HORSE, 2k Player’s Tournament, WWE, UFC and ESPN’s New Normal

Courtesy: Itoro N. Umontuen

Basketball, football, baseball and soccer. Long ago, the four sports lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the pandemic attacked. Only ESPN, the master of all four sports, could save us. But, when the world needed them most, they vanished. By vanished I mean they absolutely ran out of content. Poorly timed Avatar reference aside, sports have long been used as an escape from reality. When real-world stress became too much to handle, people could always turn on ESPN to take their minds away for the moment.

For many, sport is one of the purest forms of art and entertainment. No matter what was going on in the world, through sport people could unify. However, during this most unusual time, even sports aren’t here to take the stress away.

More than a month ago now, an NBA game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was cancelled right before tipoff. As the teams finished warmups, and prepared to start the game, a team trainer rushed onto the court to deliver the news that Jazz all-star center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. After this news, the crowd was asked to leave the arena as the players were placed under quarantine for testing. This was a defining moment, not just for the NBA, but for the entire country.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver decided on that night that the NBA would suspend its season indefinitely. The next day it seemed as if every major American organization followed Silver’s lead. Not only did every major sports organization, other than the WWE and UFC (which has since postponed all events) suspend action, but Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency.

After the NBA suspended play, America changed for the foreseeable future. Schools closed, non-essential business were shut down and social distancing became much more than the world’s new favorite buzzword. Shelter-in-place orders were made, and normal life became a distant memory. People across the country, and the greater world at large, have had to adapt to a different way of living.

In America specifically, the NBA’s shutdown is viewed by many as the turning point. It’s as if the US government and major organizations were playing one giant game of chicken to see what domino would fall first.

In a world without live sports, major sports networks such as ESPN have had to come up with creative ways to present content. I use the word “creative” quite loosely. In the early days of the sports drought, major sports networks were rescued by NFL free agency. Tom Brady and others gave them plenty to discuss, but the same conversations and debates could only keep people’s interest for so long before it was time to move on.

In an effort to diversify, one day ESPN ran a 24-hour WWE WrestleMania replay. Another day, they ran 9 consecutive hours of UFC replays. They even pulled some of their ESPN+ premium content such as “Peyton’s Places,” onto their regular programming. Recently, they’ve shifted back toward professional athletes playing sports… video games.

ESPN aired an NBA 2k20 players tournament featuring Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Devin Booker, Donavan Mitchell, Zach Lavine, Andre Drummond and Demarcus Cousins among a field of 16 total NBA stars. Yes, that is correct. On primetime ESPN, they played footage of grown men playing a video game. After the 2k players tournament ended, ESPN partnered with the NBA and WNBA to air a H-O-R-S-E competition. The competition included Chris Paul, Trae Young, Zach Lavine, Paul Peirce, Chauncey Billups, Mike Conley Jr., Tamika Catchings and Allie Quigley playing the famous backyard basketball game. It’s not exactly must-see TV by any stretch, but it’s all they have. The world of sports, for the first time, is not immune to the world outside of sports.



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