NBA postpones Rockets-Thunder game after COVID-19 contact tracing, James Harden violation

Jason Owens
·3-min read

The NBA has postponed Wednesday’s season opener between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder due to COVID-19 concerns.

The decision arrived after multiple Rockets players returned either positive or inconclusive COVID-19 tests with contract tracing forcing others into quarantine, according to the NBA. The league also ruled out James Harden for violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols, leaving the Rockets without enough players to field a team for their season opener.

NBA statement on postponement

The league announced the news Wednesday afternoon in a statement:

“Three Houston Rockets players have returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive for coronavirus under the NBA’s testing program. Following the contact tracing protocol, four other players are quarantined at this time.

“Additionally, James Harden is unavailable due to a violation of the Health and Safety Protocols. All other Rockets players were tested again today, and all returned negative results. Houston has one additional player who is unavailable due to injury. As such, the Rockets do not have the league-required eight available players to proceed with tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.”

Houston Rockets' James Harden controls the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs in Houston, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. (Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo via AP)
An alleged James Harden strip club trip is just part of Houston's COVID-19 issues. (Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo via AP)

Haircuts led to contact tracing

News broke of COVID-19 concerns around the Rockets Wednesday morning. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Kenyon Martin Jr. and rookie Jae’Sean Tate were reportedly previously ruled out due to contact tracing.

Martin, Wall and Cousins were among a group of players who gathered for haircuts in an apartment, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. That gathering reportedly prompted the contact tracing.

Alleged Harden strip club trip prompted more COVID concerns

In a separate incident, the NBA investigated video that allegedly showed Harden making an appearance at a strip club without a mask. The league announced a $50,000 fine for Harden after the game was postponed.

Harden, who is in the midst of a dispute with the Rockets amid reported trade demands, responded to news of the strip club video in a since-deleted Instagram post.

“One thing after another. I went to show love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she is becoming a boss and putting her people in position of success and now it’s a problem.

“Every day it’s something different. No matter how many times people try to drag my name under you can’t. The real always end on top.”

Second day of NBA games outside bubble

Wednesday’s postponement arrives on the second day of the 2020-21 NBA season after two Tuesday games on the league’s opening night. These are the first games the NBA has scheduled outside of the Disney World bubble that allowed the league to conclude the 2019-20 season amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league is attempting to conduct the entirety of this season outside the confines of a bubble with teams traveling to opposing cities and arenas as usual. The NBA was able to complete last season without any additional positive COVID-19 tests once the bubble was initiated.

Thunder involved in last NBA COVID cancellation

The Thunder were also at the center of the March 11 cancellation that prompted the suspension of the NBA season. The Utah Jazz and Thunder were minutes from tipoff in a packed Chesapeake Energy Arena when news broke that Utah center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19.

The NBA initially postponed the game before quickly taking the step of suspending the season. The NBA’s decision that night was the first of a wave of major sports cancellations in the United States and served for many as the bellwether for the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. sports leagues have since returned amid a less cautious approach to the coronavirus, with COVID-19 impacting players, team staff and teams to varying degrees across all major sports, including the NFL and college football.

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