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Adam Silver says NBA won’t pause season despite outbreaks

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver poses for a selfie with a Sacramento Kings fan during a game on Dec. 8. (Jose Luis Villegas/AP) (José Luis Villegas/AP)
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Faced with dozens of positive coronavirus tests that have forced the postponement of seven games over the past week, Commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday that the NBA will continue its 2021-22 season as its Christmas Day showcase games approach.

“No plans right now to pause the season,” Silver said in an interview with ESPN. “We have looked at all the options, but frankly we’re having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now. … This virus will not be eradicated, and we’re going to have to learn to live with it.”

Silver’s announcement came one day after the NHL became the first North American professional sports league to announce that it would suspend play in response to the omicron variant, with its shutdown scheduled to last from Wednesday to Sunday. The NHL, which earlier this week moved to eliminate team travel between the United States and Canada, has dealt with outbreaks among teams that have landed approximately 15 percent of players in the coronavirus protocols and prompted 50 game postponements.

Back in October, Silver said he hoped the 2021-22 season would “look a lot more like normal” after the league’s previous two seasons were shortened and severely altered by the pandemic. The NBA enjoyed relative stability until late November, when enhanced player testing around Thanksgiving led to the first significant batch of positive tests.

Covid could turn NBA’s Christmas showcase into a dud

All told, more than 100 players have entered the protocols in December, including stars such as Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Trae Young. Eight of the 10 teams scheduled to play on Christmas have players in the health and safety protocols, and the uncertain availability of key players threatens to spoil the most important date on the league’s regular season calendar.

In response, the NBA this week reinstituted enhanced coronavirus health and safety protocols and altered its roster rules to allow teams to cope with outbreaks by signing replacement players without impacting their salary cap or luxury tax payments.

Roughly 90 percent of the NBA’s current cases, Silver revealed Tuesday, have been identified as the omicron variant. The decision to play through this latest wave was influenced by the fact that 97 percent of NBA players have been vaccinated and 65 percent have received a booster shot.

The commissioner said booster shots have proved to be “highly effective,” as “only a very small number” of boosted players have dealt with breakthrough cases and most have “essentially been asymptomatic or very mild symptoms.” Additionally, Silver said that players who have received boosters might be able to return more quickly than the NBA’s typical 10-day isolation period because “it seems that the virus runs through their systems faster.”

As the NBA seeks to increase the percentage of players who have received their booster shots, the National Basketball Players Association held a meeting of its player representatives and pledged to work with the league to “[promote] the health and safety of all players in this very challenging environment."

”Today, we committed to facilitating the delivery of booster shots to all eligible players," the union said in a statement. “The NBPA is strongly encouraging all of our members to receive a booster as soon as possible.”

While the NFL announced Saturday that it would eliminate most testing on vaccinated players unless they are symptomatic, Silver said the NBA was “not quite there yet” in instituting a similar policy. Such an approach would probably reduce the disruptions to the season but also could lead to increased spread of the virus.

Several teams, including the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors, have dealt with recent outbreaks that severely compromised their ability to field competitive rosters. Silver acknowledged that relying on replacement players to weather such situations comes with a “certain amount of unfairness,” but he added that his “sense [was] that things will work out by the end of the season.”

“When we shut down in March of 2020, a lot of people paid attention for the first time and took this virus seriously,” Silver said. “As we’re dealing with the current situation, our ability to find a way to keep operating is also significant for society to show that there are ways, despite living in this covid era, that we can find a safe and responsible way to keep going.”

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