The NBA All-Star Game that no one wanted is going to happen tonight in Atlanta, but Philadelphia 76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have been excused in accordance with the NBA’s coronavirus contact-tracing protocol. The two players, who flew to Atlanta last night, reportedly saw a barber in Philadelphia who tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Prior to traveling to Atlanta, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons had contact with an individual who is confirmed today to have tested positive for the coronavirus. As a result, Embiid (Team Durant) and Simmons (Team LeBron) will not play in tonight’s NBA All-Star Game,” the NBA said in a statement this morning.
Even in a healthy year, the NBA All-Star Game extravaganza doesn’t much matter except as a money-making sideshow. But this year, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, holding even a pared-down and fanless version of the event seems downright irresponsible. Despite calls from many of the league’s top players to cancel the spectacle and ongoing concerns from Atlanta’s mayor about the event and associated promotions increasing the risk of spread among the city’s population, the NBA forged ahead with the game.
And while the league said that Simmons and Embiid have been in quarantine since arriving in Atlanta, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the players haven’t had contact with any of the other players, it’s of course possible that the players unknowingly exposed other people to the virus in their travels from Philadelphia to Atlanta.
That this could happen was, of course, a main argument for cancelling the game. Even with the league’s sophisticated testing and tracing protocols, it’s impossible to ignore that an event requiring dozens of people from different places (plus support staff, media, TV crews) to fly to the same location, mingle, and then fly back home could end up being a super spreader event.
But at least the players who haven’t been ruled out of the game due to exposure to a dangerous virus are excited to play. Earlier this month, LeBron James called the event a “slap in the face.” De’Aaron Fox called it “stupid.” Kawhi Leonard said it was “putting money over health.” Giannis Antetokounmpo said, “I’ve got zero energy, zero excitement.”