The WNBA postponed the start of the semifinal series between the second-seeded Storm and No. 4 Minnesota on Sunday because of inconclusive COVID-19 test results from Seattle players.
“While we would have liked to have had a game right now … you have to follow your gut and instinct and you have to follow the data and science,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a televised interview. “So far everything has worked in the bubble because we followed the science.
Engelbert said previous players missed regular-season games “because we were following the science” and added, “The virus is so unpredictable. It takes time to run these tests and to get the results and to evaluate them then for purposes of returning a player to play. … We dealt with several of these and this was the right thing to do today.”
League officials announced Sunday night Game 1 of the best-of-five series would be played Tuesday. That was supposed to be the date for Game 2.
Engelbert told ESPN’s Holly Rowe she was at the hotel when she found out about the inconclusive tests and boarded the Storm’s team bus heading to the game to inform the players.
At that point, the Lynx had arrived at the IMG Academy arena in Bradenton, Florida, and some players were warming up when told the game was postponed.
“We needed more testing and data,” Engelbert said. “As soon as I talked to them, it was clear that we’re concerned about health and safety and why we’re here. It wasn’t about basketball at that point. It was about doing the right thing.
“We decided after talking to the players, talking with some other league officials, talking with some of our medical, safety and player health (staff) that this was the right thing to do so that we can have another day or two to get more testing back.”
Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel and CEO and general manager Alisha Valavanis released a joint statement that read: “The Storm organization fully supports the decision to postpone the game. The health and safety of the WNBA players, team staff and all those involved in the production of this season remains our top priority.”
Since the start of the season on July 25, everyone inside the bubble at IMG Academy is tested every day. There had been a few false positive coronavirus tests, but no player had developed COVID-19.
The WNBA’s safety measures and health protocols have been universally praised considering the league played 247 games, including five in the playoffs, without any disruption because of the coronavirus.
“This is the hardest part of COVID-19 and putting on live sports during it. Every day you’re reset to zero,” Engelbert said. “So the fact that we might have had 70 negative tests doesn’t actually matter. It’s about keeping the bubble safe and making sure that there’s no community spread.
“The purpose of testing program and the protocols that we have is to be able pull anybody out who is positive COVID before they are infectious.”
The WNBA suspended play for two days on Aug. 26-27 after players engaged in a work stoppage to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin.
Seattle finished the regular season with an 18-4 record and began the postseason as a heavy favorite over Minnesota in the best-of-five series.
On Sunday, No. 7 Connecticut crushed No. 1 Las Vegas 87-62 in the other WNBA semifinal series.
After the game, players and coaches from both teams were told about Seattle’s inconclusive test results.
“None of us knew what was going on, of course,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “Cathy came and spoke to our teams. We’ve done a great job of keeping COVID out of our bubble. I hope these are false positives. The thing that is concerning is the multiple positives.”
The Storm players who produced inconclusive results were retested Sunday night and quarantined. It’s not immediately clear how many players are being affected or how long they’ll need to remain in isolation.
“We want to make sure we have all the data and testing if someone is infected with COVID,” Engelbert said. “We can isolate them and take care of their safety. Hopefully we’ll get good data over the next 24 to 48 hours.
“Hopefully get back on the court for Game 1 on Tuesday. We will test them tonight and have additional testing on those players that had inconclusive results.”