Fear Spreading That the NBA Could ‘Cancel’ Christmas Because of Omicron Variant

The Omicron variant is already running rampant in the NBA. Numerous teams have multiple players in health and safety protocols, prompting the league and NBPA to reach a new agreement on replacement players. It’s made for a lot of moving and shaking, with ESPN analyst Richard Jefferson musing that fans might as well be watching the G League.

With so many players down for the count, is the biggest day on the league calendar in jeopardy?

Several teams scheduled to play on Christmas Day, including the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Lakers, are reeling from COVID-19. The skepticism about the potential of the NBA canceling the Christmas Day slate is very real.

More than 15% of NBA players are in health and safety protocols

The NBA is rightfully proceeding with an abundance of caution ahead of Christmas Day, though some might argue the Association should have exhibited such caution weeks ago.

The league announced Sunday the postponement of five games, including three on Sunday and one each on Monday and Tuesday. According to The Athletic, over 15% of the 450 players in the NBA are in health and safety protocols.

Players are starting to wonder whether it makes sense to play on Christmas. Longtime NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said her phone is blowing up.

“I’ve been getting calls from our players all day — ‘Michele, are they going to cancel Christmas (games)?,'” Roberts said Sunday, per The Athletic.

“People are concerned about who would ultimately be available to play. And the answer is, I don’t know … it is, obviously, concerning.”

Roberts said that the league will probably have to consider whether NBA Christmas Day is still a real attraction if star players cannot play. To that end, Omicron could force several top talents to miss Christmas.

Kevin Durant, Trae Young, and others could miss NBA Christmas Day

The NBA could well be missing an abundance of star power for its jam-packed Christmas Day schedule.

Brooklyn Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are both in health and safety protocols. Eight other Nets players remained in health and safety protocols as of Dec. 20. The Lakers, Brooklyn’s Christmas Day opponent, have five players on the shelf.

The same can be said of Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young, who had been looking forward to a playoff rematch with the New York Knicks since the league first released the schedule in August, will likely miss that contest after testing positive for the virus, while several Knicks players might also miss out. Moreover, 10 combined players in health and safety threatens the integrity of a Milwaukee Bucks-Boston Celtics showdown.

With the league trying to protect its players and ensure the best product for fans, NBA Christmas Day still seems very much up for grabs.

Would the NBA pause the season?

The basket stanchion before an NBA Christmas Day game between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors in 2019
Christmas branding on the basketball stanchion prior to an NBA game between the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors on December 25, 2019 | Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

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Forget about NBA Christmas Day for a second. Would the league consider hitting the pause button on the 2021-22 season?

Although the NBA is changing its testing procedures, Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY reported Friday that the league does not have current plans to temporarily put a stop to the schedule. Additionally, it doesn’t seem likely another “bubble” environment comes into the picture.

Then again, a continued rise in cases could well force the NBA’s hand. Instituting new rules for temporary players can only account for so much. At some point, player safety and the integrity of the season must rise to the forefront in terms of priorities.