LeBron James Responds to False Positive COVID Test

Last Updated: Dec 14th 2021   Published: Dec 14th 2021   6 Min Read
LeBron James Responds to False Positive COVID Test
Image © Joe Camporeale / USA TODAY Sports

Before a game against the LA Clippers on December 3, LeBron James made a statement regarding a false positive COVID test result he received at the end of November.

The star player stated he was “angered” and “inconvenienced” over the NBA’s handling of the situation.

James has been open about his decision to get vaccinated against the virus but has raised eyebrows about his decision not to be more supportive of others’ getting the vaccine. 

He was forced to miss a game against the Sacramento Kings at the end of November due to the test result. 

LeBron James Tests Positive for COVID

LeBron James tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, November 30. 

According to TMZ Sports, “LeBron James tested positive for COVID-19 this afternoon using a lateral flow test. James was given a follow-up PCR test to confirm the diagnosis. However, that test came back negative. LeBron was then given a third tie-breaker test ... which came back positive.”

James was forced to miss a game against the Sacramento Kings as the result of the two positive tests. At worst, he was supposed to miss 10 days of play or until he submitted two negative COVID tests taken within 24 hours. 

In the end, the test was a false positive. James didn’t have COVID and was upset on several points, claiming the NBA’s handling of the situation caused distress and disorganization in his life. 

NBA Enhanced Health and Safety Protocols

The NBA has introduced enhanced health and safety protocols to help keep players safe during the pandemic. 

League rules now dictate that when players test positive for COVID-19, they must be benched for a minimum of 10 days or until they’ve received two negative test results within a 24-hour period.

The NBA has decided not to require players to get vaccinated. But unvaccinated players won’t get off scot-free, either. Players who choose not to get vaccinated won’t be paid for games missed due to COVID-19.

It’s unclear how many players are vaccinated and how many have received booster shots. 

Sidelined “Indefinitely”

After James received his first positive COVID test result, it was unclear how long he’d be benched. 

Media headlines stated the LA Lakers forward would be “sidelined indefinitely” without much further detail for how long “indefinitely” would be.

“It’s a huge loss,” Coach Frank Vogel told the Washington Post before the Sacramento game regarding LeBron James’s positive test. “It’s disappointing. We just want the best for him right now. That’s where our thoughts are. We have a ‘next man up’ mind-set.”

To add insult to (suspected) injury, James was sidelined in Sacramento, a city where the player has previously stated holds a special place in his heart.

“It’s always special when I come back to Sac,” he told NBC Sports in 2017, “just knowing this is the start of it all - my first game as a professional. It’s always got an attachment to me, just being here and playing.”

James Was Vaccinated

It’s no secret that LeBron James was vaccinated, either. 

The basketball player was open and honest about his decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine, even if he wasn’t necessarily vocal about it. 

“We’re talking about individual bodies,” James said in September. “We’re not talking about something political, or racism or police brutality. We’re talking about people’s bodies and well-being. I don’t think I personally should get involved in what other people should do for their bodies and livelihoods. … I know what I did for me and my family. I know what some of my friends did for their families. But as far as speaking for everybody and their individualities, and things they want to do, that’s not my job.”

While unvaccinated COVID-19 patients are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID, according to a CDC study. But that doesn’t mean vaccinated patients can’t contract the virus. 

Breakthrough cases happen to people who are fully vaccinated. It’s possible for someone to test positive for COVID and be asymptomatic (as James was asymptomatic). 

NBA Player Pushback

Some NBA players took offense to James’s stance on the COVID vaccine.

One voice was Celtics’ center Enes Kanter who said he was disappointed in James’s stance on the COVID vaccine, telling CNN:

"When I heard it, I was very disappointed, and it's ridiculous. Obviously, LeBron James, he's one of the faces of the league, and he should be the first one to go out there and say, 'Listen, everyone. I got the vaccine, and I'm encouraging everyone, my community, everyone, basketball fans, non-basketball fans, and sports fans are just going out there and get this vaccine, so we can save other lives.'

"When I heard that, I just couldn't believe it. But I hope he can educate himself about this vaccination and inspire and encourage other people around him." 

James’s Issues With NBA’s Handling of Positive COVID Test

James has been vocal about his disappointment in the NBA’s handling of the positive COVID test. 

Since it turns out that he didn’t have COVID, there was no threat to his team, the Sacramento players, or the others at the game he missed. He was also upset because his family was forced to quarantine, too. 

“I had to put my kids in isolation for the time being,” James said at the press briefing following the LA Clippers game on Friday night, “the people in my household in isolation for the time being, so it was just a big-time inconvenience. That was the anger part."

James stated that the whole situation was a huge inconvenience for everyone involved.  

No Follow-Up Test

James’s biggest gripe with the NBA was that he wasn’t given an immediate follow-up test.  

"Usually when you have a positive test, they'll test you right away to make sure," he said at the LA Clippers briefing.

"There was not a follow-up test after my positive test.” 

False-positive COVID test results are much less common than false-negative results — though this can depend on the type of test. Rapid tests are much more likely to show a false-positive or false-negative than PCR tests. 

A study posted in the Cochran Review found, “between 1 in 10 and 1 in 6 positive results will be a false positive, and between 1 in 4 and 1 in 8 cases will be missed.” 

James Sent Straight to Isolation

Another issue James took with the NBA’s handling of his positive COVID test result was that he was sent to isolation right away and was given no assistance in returning home from Sacramento.

At the LA Clippers press briefing James also stated, “It was straight to isolation and you've been put into protocol. That's the part that kind of angered me. I had to figure out a way to get home from Sacramento by myself. They wouldn't allow anyone to travel with me, no security, no anything, when I traveled back from Sacramento.” 

James Was Asymptomatic

Like many patients who test positive for COVID, James was asymptomatic. 

At the press briefing, he expressed his frustration, saying, "I knew I was going to get cleared. I never ever felt sick at all. I know you can be asymptomatic. But if what I had was a positive COVID test, then what are we doing? What are we talking about? I thought it was handled very poorly.”

To be clear, it’s possible to have COVID and experience no symptoms or mild symptoms. Some patients don’t experience symptoms up to two-to-three weeks after being exposed to the virus. 

Though the NBA player didn’t have COVID, he still needed to follow the health and safety protocol set forth by the NBA to keep players safe. 

Missing LA’s Win Over Sacramento Kings

The final stake to the heart may have been James’s missing the Lakers win over the Sacramento Kings on November 30.

James was sent home on that day (the same day he tested positive) and therefore was forced to miss the game. 

Though James stated that he was more upset by the inconvenience of finding his own way home to LA (without security) and the worry of possibly exposing his family to the virus, it’s also not unlikely that he was also disappointed about missing the game against the Kings. 

James isn’t the only NBA player to receive a false-positive COVID test result, either. 

In January of this year, then Golden State Warriors forward Eric Paschall received a false-positive COVID test result. Paschall followed the NBA’s health and safety protocol and was able to return to the team after he had been quarantined for 24 hours and received his negative test.

“Not every system is perfect, but again, it happened and it was disappointing that I couldn’t play yesterday,” Paschall told the Mercury News. “I’m back and happy I can get on the flight tonight.”