In the latest challenge for a major North American sports league trying to navigate the pandemic, the N.B.A.’s Philadelphia 76ers remained in New York on Friday to undergo contact tracing and coronavirus testing after one of their players learned during a game against the Nets on Thursday night that he had tested positive.
The positive test result was returned while the player, Seth Curry, was on the Sixers’ bench during the first half of their loss to the Nets at Barclays Center. The game was allowed to continue, raising questions about the league’s health and safety protocols as it plays without the restricted setup it used to finish last season in Florida.
The Sixers lost, 122-109, and a full evaluation to determine whether Curry had been in close contact with any Sixers players or staff members began in earnest the next morning — after the Nets had flown to Memphis for their next game.
The fate of Philadelphia’s home game Saturday against Denver was not immediately clear. A league spokesman said that there had been no changes made to the schedule.
Curry, held out of Thursday’s game with an ankle injury, was removed from the Sixers’ bench and placed in isolation after being notified of the positive test during the first half, according to two people familiar with the circumstances who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details publicly.
Major League Baseball faced a similar challenge of a positive test result received during competition, in Game 6 of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays in October. The Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner learned during the seventh inning that he had tested positive, and was pulled from the game before the start of the eighth inning. The game was not stopped then, either, and Turner later apologized for returning to the field to celebrate winning the championship with his teammates.
On Thursday, Curry had taken two daily coronavirus tests as required by the N.B.A.’s health and safety protocols — one rapid test and one polymerase chain reaction test. The rapid test came up as negative, allowing Curry to be on the bench with a mask, according to one of the people familiar with the situation. The 76ers then received the result of Curry’s P.C.R. test and took him to an isolated room at Barclays Arena as play continued. He left the arena separately from the rest of the team.
The Nets were still scheduled to play the Grizzlies on Friday night. It was not clear if any Nets coaches or players were aware of Curry’s positive coronavirus result as they played the Sixers.
Curry was seated on the front row of Philadelphia’s bench in the first quarter against the Nets in street clothes, with the assistant coach Sam Cassell to his right and, for portions of the quarter, Philadelphia’s star center Joel Embiid to his left.
After the game, Embiid, who recently became a father, told ESPN that he plans to quarantine from his family until he is sure that he does not have the virus.
The Washington Wizards, who played Philadelphia on Wednesday night, are scheduled to play the Celtics in Boston on Friday night. The Celtics announced Friday that three rotation players — Tristan Thompson, Grant Williams and Robert Williams III — would miss that game because of possible exposure to the coronavirus. Other top players in the league have also been in quarantine, including Kevin Durant of the Nets, despite not reporting a positive coronavirus test.
Players are required to quarantine for at least seven days if they are exposed to someone who tests positive. If a player tests positive, he could be required to isolate for at least 10 days. Several players have had to quarantine since the season began Dec. 22, but only one game has been derailed: Houston’s season-opener against Oklahoma City on Dec. 23 was postponed when the Rockets could not field the league’s minimum requirement of eight players.
The N.B.A. announces the results of the leaguewide coronavirus testing weekly and said Thursday that four players out of 498 tested since Dec. 30 had tested positive. Last week, the league announced zero confirmed positive tests out of 495 players tested.
According to the N.B.A.’s protocols, a positive test requires a team to “notify any close contacts of the confirmed positive case of their status and appropriate next steps,” including retesting or quarantine. A player that has tested positive must isolate for at least 10 days or return two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart before he can take steps to return to play, such as working out by himself when no other players are present.