Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid didn't play in Sunday night’s All-Star Game due to COVID-19 contact tracing, the NBA announced.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Sixers stars were in contact with a barber who tested positive for the coronavirus. Wojnarowski reported that the barber then returned an additional positive test.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, who coached the team drafted by Kevin Durant, told reporters it was "not looking great" for Simmons and Embiid to play in the game shortly before the league announced his two All-Stars would not participate. Simmons and Embiid's scheduled media sessions were canceled.
“Extremely unfortunate," Bulls All-Star guard Zach LaVine said. “From what I’ve heard, they did everything right. I think they had close contact with their barber, and the barber was getting tested daily. ... It’s not like they were trying to hide it or they were doing something wrong. They did everything right and they still (were) in the wrong place at the wrong time. Extremely unfortunate and sad but I think, with the time that we live in right now, you can’t be too safe.”
As the NBA's press release notes, Rivers and his Sixers coaching staff still led Team Durant Sunday night because no individuals besides Embiid and Simmons were exposed to the individual who tested positive in Philadelphia. The Pelicans' Zion Williamson replaced Embiid as a starter, the league announced.
After announcing last November that this year's All-Star Game in Indianapolis was postponed, the league decided to move forward with a game in Atlanta, Georgia, during the COVID-19 pandemic despite stars such as LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo not agreeing with the idea.
“I think, just in general, this All-Star Game is kind of forced and just thrown upon us," James Harden said Sunday.
The Sixers had one postponed game in the first half of the season, a scheduled road matchup against the Thunder, due to contact tracing. The team was shorthanded for games on Jan. 9, Jan. 11 and Jan. 12 after Seth Curry tested positive for COVID-19 and other players were subsequently ruled out by health and safety protocols.
Next on the Sixers’ regular-season schedule is a March 11 game in Chicago against the Bulls. Up to 3,100 fans will be permitted to return to Wells Fargo Center for the Sixers' March 14 game vs. the Spurs.
Simmons and Embiid's statuses for those games are uncertain. Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton missed three Sixers games between Jan. 7 and Jan. 14 after they, according to Rivers, sat at a table with Curry during a team meal.
Embiid, who’s positioned himself strongly in the MVP race, committed Saturday to donate his All-Star winnings of $100,000 to organizations that help combat homelessness in Philadelphia. The Sixers organization also matched his donation.
Both Embiid and Simmons expressed that they'd been looking forward to playing against the league's top talent in Atlanta.
“I can never take those occasions for granted,” Embiid said Wednesday night. “It’s a great feeling to be part of the best players in the world. I’m just looking to go out there, stay safe — first thing — and just have fun in the best game in basketball.”
A source confirmed Sunday night to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark that Simmons and Embiid traveled back to Philadelphia after testing negative for COVID-19. The New York Times' Marc Stein first reported the news.