A Pandemic, Looming Recession and Boundless Worry ... but Taking Away Sports Is Brutal

Take heart, Mavs fans. Pandemic or no, someday you will see Luka Doncic in the NBA playoffs ... maybe this summer.
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Take heart, Mavs fans. Pandemic or no, someday you will see Luka Doncic in the NBA playoffs ... maybe this summer.
Texas Rangers opening day shoved into May. Dallas Mavericks playoff games awkwardly played in August. Texas Motor Speedway’s NASCAR race postponed into a murky future. Golf’s Byron Nelson Classic canceled altogether.

Courtesy of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, even sports — our escape from reality — can’t escape reality. “Out of an abundance of caution” our sports world has hit an eerie, unfathomable panic/pause button.

Though no DFW players or coaches have publicly announced they have been infected, the virus has left moods pensive, calendars discombobulated and heads spinning.

While we witness canceled sporting events and the stock market race to circle the drain, every day brings new guidelines, new rules, new normal and new numbers. Don’t congregate in groups of 50. Then 25. 10. And the latest from the CDC: eight. As in, for the next eight weeks don’t gather in groups.

Translation: Sports, in line with America, is in full stop. Surreal.

When the virus’ gnarly tentacles began constricting around our sports last week, the Mavericks were a lock playoff team with only 15 regular-season games remaining. Initially, the NBA said it was pausing for 30 days. But with seven players — including star Kevin Durant — testing positive, combined with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines, basketball’s timeout will surely balloon. And when it comes back: Straight into the playoffs? Games played with no fans? At G-League arenas?

Our last Mavericks image of 2020 might be gargantuan backup center Boban Marjanovic’s shocking 31-point, 17-rebound performance in a victory over the Nuggets on March 11.

“We will take direction from the NBA,” said Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who announced he and his players will donate money to help American Airlines Center workers make up for lost wages during the stoppage. “They have all the people talking to the CDC and health authorities. We don't have the expertise to pretend we are experts. The league does. They have experts talking to experts. I don't know more than the experts.”

"We don't have the expertise to pretend we are experts. The league does. They have experts talking to experts." — Mark Cuban

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The virus also is likely to snuff out the remaining 13 regular-season games for the Dallas Stars, who had lost their last six games but were still assured of making the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers, meanwhile, are having their traditional opening day and the christening of their new, $1.1 billion Globe Life Field postponed until around Memorial Day.

Because they are in their offseason, the Dallas Cowboys are conducting business as usual in times that are anything but usual. Upon the opening of NFL free agency on Monday, they used a “franchise tag” on quarterback Dak Prescott that will pay him $31.5 million in 2020, the highest single-season salary of any player in franchise history. Owner Jerry Jones managed to re-sign receiver Amari Cooper and linebacker Sean Lee but said goodbye to all-time favorite and future Ring of Honor inductee Jason Witten.

Not that football isn’t affected by coronavirus. New Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy canceled a trip last week to survey the team’s operational training camp headquarters in Oxnard, California. The NFL announced it will hold its draft in Las Vegas, April 23-25 as scheduled, only with no fans attending. And the XFL canceled its inaugural season after just five games, costing the Dallas Renegades a chance at postseason games played in the Rangers’ old Globe Life Park.

Restaurants closed. Spring break extended. Every cruise to anywhere, canceled. Absurd runs on toilet paper. There is no playbook on how Americans should handle this pandemic, other than lots of “social distancing” and no sports. So while we rewatch Contagion and binge Netflix shows we’d never admit to (hello, Love Is Blind), sports organizers wait patiently with us, anxious to answer “When?” and “How?” their leagues will resume, start or merely survive.

“Everything is on the table,” said Texas Motor Speedway general manager Eddie Gossage of his race’s rescheduling. “Maybe a midweek race. Maybe a doubleheader. Maybe racing without fans. Only thing I’m confident about is that we’re going to come back and run all 36 races.”

Alas, there is quaran-tainment with a DFW flavor: a homegrown “player” to root for in a “sport” still being “played.” Well, sorta. Tune in Friday night to the obscure TV network, Universal Kids. It will present, at 5 p.m., the show American Ninja Warrior Junior and 13-year-old contestant and Dallas native Isaiah Thomas.

Welcome to sports fans’ very abnormal new normal.