We must save Christmas. Whatever the cost. Governments around the world and NBA leaders share a common challenge as the holiday season approaches: upholding traditions while gently maneuvering in the midst of the epidemic peak. « We were almost back to normal. Full rooms, a communicative energy between supporters and players. Now cases are skyrocketing. I hope that we will be able to keep a certain lead« , noted Steve Kerr ten days ago. In reality, it is already too late.
The Omicron variant is spreading at full speed across North America. The league is obviously not spared. And the « Christmas Games », five important posters of December 25 which constitute a key moment of the season, are threatened. For now, the various shocks are still on the program: Hawks – Knicks, despite new positive cases announced Friday night among the Hawks, Celtics – Bucks, a succulent Warriors – Suns, the duel at the top Nets – Lakers and a nice Mavericks – Jazz for dessert. But they are hanging by a thread and, above all, these meetings will be played out in incredible conditions.
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The bad news is linked every day, with an Adrian Wojnarowski, journalist for ESPN, hanging on the keypad of his phone to announce, one by one, the latest contact or positive cases for Covid-19. All are supposed to follow the famous health protocol put in place by the NBA, namely ten days of quarantine – a period which should soon be shortened – or two consecutive negative tests in 24 hours.
More than a hundred players have found themselves in this situation since the beginning of December. A massacre. Among them, more than sixty were to participate in the Christmas matches. Without them, the flavor of the posters will obviously be different. Dallas is playing without Luka Doncic. Trae Young, Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari are missing in Atlanta. Ten Brooklyn players are forfeited, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Bucks are deprived of Giannis Antetokounmpo. In short, it doesn’t look like anything anymore.
What solutions to continue the season?
The league finds itself forced to postpone matches every day. But she is keen on her Christmas Games. So she turned to emergency measures to fight as best as possible the looming disaster. Franchises are now allowed to sign a new player as soon as one of their members must follow the health protocol. Temporary workers drawn from all over the place and in any way. With the return of well-known heads: Isaiah Thomas, Lance Stephenson, the Celtics even brought Joe Johnson out of retirement! He had not played in the NBA since 2018… This solution might not be enough either. Posters planned for other dates are therefore likely to be brought forward to December 25 to compensate for a possible postponement. The channels pay very dearly for these matches and economic logic prevails over the athlete.
Because the NBA, right now, really doesn’t look like anything. The teams are decimated and the five majors make no sense. And when it is not the players, it is the coaches, their assistants or even all the men in the shadows who ensure the proper functioning of a franchise. On the ground, the results are not even really significant any more so much the groups are upset. And yet, the rankings are well impacted. Even with 5 G-League players, 3 more off the bench and 2 hastily signed, a loss is still a loss. So what solution for the rest of the season?
Leaving asymptomatic players to light?
Because beyond the Christmas posters, it is the next few weeks (months?) That may prove to be decisive and complicated. « For now, taking a break is out of the question« , already assures Adam Silver, the commissionaire. »We are studying all the options.« So which? A ‘bubble’, like in 2020? Unlikely. Almost impossible. 97% of players are vaccinated and two-thirds of them have received their third dose. This greatly reduces the likelihood of developing a severe form of Covid-19, so there is less interest in bringing together 30 franchises in the same place, which also represents a huge logistical challenge.
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So what ? A shortened season? Once again, this would be synonymous with financial losses. For now, the league is content to step up testing. But according to ESPN, the leaders would consider letting play the asymptomatic positive cases. Even if they are not yet completely decided on the subject. In particular because of the message sent to the rest of the world if they were to opt for this solution. « The NBA is an icon. For many people, the pandemic only started after the league began to cancel matches. That’s when they realized it was serious« Says a professor at the University of California Medicine. Yet playing positive cases without symptoms is arguably the next step. »We will have to learn to live with the virus« Silver remarks. Kind of like the rest of us.
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