Utah Jazz, Pac-12 sports, BYU football and more: 2020’s best sports pictures

It was just an ordinary night at a Utah Jazz game for Kristin Murphy, the Deseret News photographer who was assigned to cover the game against the visiting Toronto Raptors at Vivint Arena on March 9. At the same time, photographer Steve Griffin was traveling to Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference and Pac-12 basketball tournaments.

The Jazz game ended with a Utah loss and with Rudy Gobert being ejected from the game.

Two nights later, in front of the Oklahoma City Thunder crowd, an announcer came over the speakers just before tipoff telling fans that the game had been canceled.

The story grew just a short time later when the NBA tweeted that a player with the Utah Jazz had preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19. Later we learned that that player was Gobert. With the coronavirus already making headlines across the country, this disease suddenly became very real for Utah sports fans.

Back in Las Vegas, Griffin had just finished covering the Utes’ loss to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.

Thursday morning, Griffin and the Utes were already packing their bags when more breaking news hit: The Pac-12 was canceling all remaining conference athletic events.

Back in Salt Lake City, we were coming face-to-face with this scary virus, and suddenly putting Murphy into quarantine because of her possible exposure to Gobert. Photographers often sit baseline along the ends of the court, sometimes very close to the players, and thus could be at risk.

Just like that, high school, college and professional sports went dark. Before we knew it, our sports coverage took a dramatic turn as well.

Suddenly, we were taking and editing photos of empty sports stadiums, marquees thanking the fans and locked gates at Little League fields.

Then, in late May, just as some sports were returning, including professional soccer here in Utah, the sports world reacted with outrage almost uniformly to the tragic death of George Floyd. Athletes, sometimes kneeling, sometimes wearing shirts or face masks with messages of support to the Floyd family and anger toward our country’s social injustices, became part of the fabric of society.

With athletes around the world speaking out, those protests at sporting events became a big part of what our photographers now covered.

Our sports photo coverage went from March Madness to a year with a whole lot of madness. From the high school seniors who were denied the opportunity to play their final spring seasons, to NBA fans who had to watch their teams battle it out inside a bubble, to the crazy sounds of artificial crowd noise, 2020 was a year like no other.

Yet through the madness, it was still sports that helped keep us together. We still cheered for the same teams despite our political division.

In 2020, the Deseret News photographers were there every step of the way, to document and tell the stories that needed telling. Here is a sampling of some of their incredible work.

BYU Cougars guard TJ Haws (30) is swarmed by teammates as BYU celebrates its win over Saint Mary’s in an NCAA basketball game in Provo at the Marriott Center on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. BYU won 81-79.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Maple Mountain’s drill team competes in the military portion of the 5A state championships at UVU in Orem on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Ridgeline’s Carly Eubanks, left, and Snow Canyon’s Gretchen Snelders tie for first in the 100-yard freestyle in the 4A state swimming meet in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Highland and Springville play in the 5A girls state basketball championship at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Highland won 46-34.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Fremont’s Dallin Hall and teammates celebrate their win over Davis in the 6A boys basketball championship game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

University of Utah gymnast Abby Paulson is congratulated after competing on the beam in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 6, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Real Salt Lake midfielder Nick Besler (13) and Real Salt Lake defender Marcelo Silva (30) try to head the ball as New York City goalkeeper David Jensen (1) grabs it in Sandy on Saturday, March 7, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) gets ejected from an NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 9, 2020. The Jazz lost 101-92. Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 two days later, just before tipoff against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That game was subsequently canceled and soon after the NBA went into hiatus for several months. The same day the NBA announced the hiatus, Jazz player Donovan Mitchell confirmed that he, too, tested positive for COVID-19.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak and the bench celebrate a Utah 3-pointer against Oregon State during the first round of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

The Crown Colony baseball field in Holladay on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Crown Colony is a Cal Ripken youth baseball league that has been serving kids ages 12 and under since its founding in 1959.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Maple Mountain’s Cole Rollins can’t come up with the ball while playing Cottonwood during a Last Chance Tournament game in Spanish Fork on Thursday, May 28, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Reflected in a small pond, Ryan Ruffels hits from the rough during round 3 of the Korn Ferry Tour’s Utah Championship at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington on Saturday, June 27, 2020. Ruffels ended the round tied for third.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Utah Royals FC players takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement before the game against the Chicago Red Stars at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman on Sunday, July 12, 2020.

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Light from a window shines on Lehi’s Divine Faleao as she tries to block a Pleasant Grove shot along with teammate Haylee Holker during volleyball match at Lehi High School on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Action in the Maple Mountain at Pleasant Grove football game in Pleasant Grove on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Chance Ekins, of Nephi, is thrown from a bull during the Magic Valley Stampede PRCA Rodeo at the Twin Falls County Fair in Filer, Idaho, on Thursday Sept 3, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Mountain bikers from the Bingham, Herriman and Mountain Ridge high school club teams ride the trail system in Yellow Fork Canyon near Herriman on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. A fundraising campaign by the teams raised $200,000 for Salt Lake County to improve trails in Yellow Fork and Butterfield canyons.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Davis running back Spencer Ferguson dives and scores a touchdown against Weber in Kaysville on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Timpview’s Emma Wilkinson, right, and Kylie Woods react to winning the first doubles finals against Alta during the 5A girls tennis state championship at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

East’s Tuione Tausinga and Riverton’s Jaxon Bennett go up for the ball as East and Riverton play a high school football game in Riverton on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. East won 36-20.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Brighton’s goalie Haley Munson stops Olympus from scoring during the 5A high school girls soccer state quarterfinals at Olympus High School in Holladay on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Juab’s Marissa Hall (2) and Manti’s Sadie Cartright (9) compete in the 3A high school soccer semifinals at Juan Diego High School in Draper on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Real Salt Lake Academy’s Liv Watt wipes tears away from Real Salt Lake Academy’s goalkeeper Emma Beavin after Rowland Hall scored their third goal in the 2A girls soccer championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. Rowland Hall won 3-2.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Real Salt Lake defender Marcelo Silva (30) kicks the ball away from Sporting Kansas City forward Gerso (12) as Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC play at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Skyridge’s James Palmer (6) stretches out for a catch that later led to a touchdown against Lone Peak in a 6A semifinal football game in Eagle Mountain on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Davis High School’s Grace Nicol poses for a photo at her school in Kaysville on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Nicol is the Deseret News’ 2020 Ms. Soccer.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Orem head coach Gabe Sewell is lifted into the air as the team celebrates its win over Timpview in the 5A football state championship game at Cedar Valley High in Eagle Mountain on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

BYU Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake celebrates the win over the UCF Knights during the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. BYU won 49-23.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News