LeBron James has been placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and was ruled out for the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.
Such a move almost certainly means one of two things: that James, who said earlier this season that he is vaccinated, either tested positive for COVID-19 or had an inconclusive result.
A person with knowledge of the situation said the Lakers are preparing for James to miss multiple games. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because neither the team nor James had revealed that detail publicly. ESPN previously reported that James is “expected” to miss several games.
If James tested positive, he would likely be looking at a minimum of 10 days away from the Lakers unless he returns two negative PCR tests in a 24-hour span. The Lakers learned of James’ situation Tuesday morning, coach Frank Vogel said, and arranged for transportation to take him back to Los Angeles from Sacramento.
Vogel would not say if James was exhibiting any symptoms.
“Obviously it’s a huge loss,” Vogel said before Tuesday’s game. “It’s disappointing. We just want the best for him now. That’s where our thoughts are.”
Without James, the Lakers beat the Kings 117-92 behind 25 points from Anthony Davis, who checked in with James before the game. Davis said James told him he felt good and was asymptomatic, but the Lakers will have to play at least a few games without him.
“We still have to find ways to win,” Davis said. “We can’t let that affect us. Obviously, he’s a huge part of our team. But we’ve played a huge amount of games without him. So we kind of know how that is already. We’ve got to continue to play like we did on the defensive end until he’s able to come back.”
The news that James is missing time came on the same day the NBA underscored its previous recommendation, echoed by the National Basketball Players Association, that coaches and players who are vaccinated receive a booster shot as soon as possible.
The NBA, in a memo obtained by The AP, also told its teams Tuesday that it has documented 34 cases in which a fully vaccinated player, coach or staffer had a breakthrough case of COVID-19. The league has said about 97% of players are fully vaccinated, with Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving — who has not played this season because of his status — among the exceptions.
Other NBA stars have already missed multiple games this season after testing positive, including Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid — who just missed three weeks while dealing with the virus.
Tuesday’s game marks James’ 12th absence in the Lakers’ first 23 games this season. He missed 10 games because of injuries and another because of the first NBA suspension of his 19-year career.
With James, the Lakers have gone 7-4. Without him, they are 5-7 after Wednesday’s win.
“We’re different now than we were three weeks ago or when that first time he went out was,” Vogel said. “Hopefully we’ll have more success this time around.”
James is averaging 25.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists this season. If he is out for 10 days, he would miss at least four games.
James is the 17th player known to have entered the league’s health and safety protocols since the start of the regular season. That doesn’t include some players who missed time during training camp and the preseason.
“I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family and things of that nature,” James said in September, when asked about his vaccination status. “I know that I was very [skeptical] about it all. But after doing my research and things of that nature, I felt like it was best suited for not only me but for my family and my friends. And, you know, that’s why I decided to do it.”