The NBA has already experienced the serious impacts of COVID-19.
After a three-month stoppage during the 2019-20 season, the NBA had
to finish the playoffs in a bubble environment in Orlando.
Throughout the 2020-21 regular season, games were held with limited
or no fans in attendance. Now, it seems that the NBA has run into a
COVID-related obstacle once again.
A new variant of COVID-19, Omicron, is beginning to spread just
in time for the holidays. With daily testing in the sports world,
most notably the NFL and NBA, we are seeing the number of cases
rise and it feels like a new player is ruled out every hour. Some
teams (such as the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers) have had
their roster decimated recently. More than 95% of NBA players are
reportedly fully vaccinated and some have also received the booster
shot, but the breakthrough cases are adding up.
Around the NBA, rotations have been ravaged. Stars are on the
sidelines. In some cases, coaches are unable to lead their team.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The number of cases is
rising daily — in the NBA and NFL — and now there is a
serious discussion to be had on what to do next.
Will games continue to go on as usual or is it time to
temporarily pull the plug on the regular-season schedule? With
Christmas next week and players about to be around their families,
breakthrough cases will likely spike to even higher levels than
what we’re seeing now.
It’s entirely possible NBA commissioner Adam Silver will decide
to let teams fight through the next week-plus, allowing big-rating
games on Christmas Day and New Year's Day to go on as scheduled.
However, at that point, it could be time to take a mini break and
reset the schedule to prevent any further on-court damage. Many
recognizable players are on the sidelines, which hurts the product
anyway. This week alone, the following stars are unable to play
basketball because they entered the health-and-safety protocols:
Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, LaMelo Ball, Zach LaVine,
DeMar DeRozan and Russell Westbrook.
The Sacramento Kings are worried about a roster-wide outbreak
and they're fearing that their upcoming games will have to be
postponed. Multiple players on the Los Angeles Lakers, New York
Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks and
Chicago Bulls are sidelined as well.
Teams are being forced to play with only eight available
players, which is the minimum allowed in the Collective Bargaining
Agreement. We just saw Kevin Durant have to play almost the entire
game (including overtime) in a win against the Toronto Raptors
because much of their team was sidelined due to the
health-and-safety protocols. Charlotte has continued to play on
despite missing many of their notable pieces due to COVID-19 as
Now, the Lakers are trying to rebound from a slow start to the
season, but they are without Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight
Howard, Malik Monk and Avery Bradley. Los Angeles just signed
Isaiah Thomas, who went off in his G League debut on
Wednesday, since their backcourt depth has been ravaged by the
During the peak of the pandemic, we saw the NBA continue to push
through even when many teams suffered from COVID-related issues.
While all of the recent cases may be shocking to fans, the league
has acknowledged that a COVID spike was to be expected from
Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.
Welcome to the new normal for the NBA — and the entire sports
world — during a worldwide pandemic. With new variants continuing
to pop up, this will continue to be a situation to monitor within
the NBA, let alone society as a whole.
On Wednesday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania
and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that
the NBA and NBPA have discussed modified protocols to combat the
spread of COVID-19. The two sides have already agreed to start
testing vaccinated players without booster shots, but they are
still negotiating whether there will be further testing and more
restrictive protocols with cases now rising league-wide.
The holiday season is a peak time of interest for the
Association, but it’s fair to wonder if now is the time for the
league office to pause the season in order to prevent more players
and teams from being impacted by COVID-19.