The 2021 NBA All-Star Game is happening. The league will hold its annual showcase of the game’s best players on March 7 in Atlanta, according to insider Shams Charania. Instead of a weekend full of All-Star festivities, the NBA is planning to host the game and skill competitions in a single night, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The league was supposed to host the All-Star Game in Indianapolis this season before wisely canceling it due to the pandemic. A move to Atlanta, home of broadcast partner TNT, allows the production crew to put on the game without needing to travel. There is rumored to be a charitable component to the game benefitting historically black colleges and universities and Covid-19 relief, per ESPN.
This is the league’s attempt at having a “safe” All-Star Game in the middle of a global pandemic that is still killing thousands of people each day. Everyone involved should know better. There is absolutely no reason to host All-Star festivities in person this year, but the NBA decided to do it anyway.
It begs one question: who is this for?
It’s not for the players, many of whom would prefer a few days of rest as the league tries to cram a 72-game slate into a condensed timeframe. Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox, a potential first-time All-Star this season, said hosting the game this year is “kind of stupid” minutes after starring in an upset win over the Boston Celtics.
If that’s how a 22-year-old who could become first-time All-Star is reacting, imagine how veterans who play in the game every year must feel.
Denver Nuggets MVP front-runner Nikola Jokic also said he’d prefer the rest rather than playing in the All-Star Game.
Asked Nikola Jokic if he wanted an ASG or a break: “I was All-Star last 2 years .. I’m in shape. The rest, break, of course, ‘Where to sign right now?’ But being an AS, it’s an honor, you represent a lot of people, back home, Serbia, Sombor, my family. It’s honor to be there.”
— Mike Singer (@msinger) January 30, 2021
Is the All-Star Game for the fans? The league will say it is, but the majority of fans are smart enough to know how foolish the plan is.
SB Nation readers overwhelmingly voted that there should not be an All-Star Game this year when asked earlier this week. Our readers weren’t all that interested in a dunk and three-point contest in the middle of a pandemic, either.
So, who is this game for again if the players and fans don’t want it? Obviously, it’s for the owners who want another boost in revenue. While Wojnarowski reported that it’s unclear how the game would impact the league’s bottom line, the game wouldn’t be going on unless the board of governors thought it could recoup financial losses related to the pandemic.
Hiding behind a donation to HBCUs as a reason for the league hosting the game simply feels insulting. The league is made up of billionaires and millionaires. They can give money to HBCUs and Covid relief without risking the health and safety of the people who have to put the game on.
It’s not just about protecting the players, though that is a concern. It takes an army of people to put on an event like the All-Star Game, from arena workers to team employees to the broadcast crew. Those folks aren’t wealthy but have to risk their own safety and the safety of people around them to help put on the game for work. As people fly from all over the country to descend on Atlanta for All-Star festivities, there is simply too much risk to pull this off while minimizing the threat of the virus.
The NBA likes to think of itself as a progressive league and as a thought leader. The bubble earned massive acclaim for its ability to keep people safe and put together a highly entertaining product. The league could have done a bubble again this year at a reduced or altered schedule, but it chose to play in home arenas. While it might have been hard to sell the players on another bubble and it may have been too expensive for the owners, the reality of this season is that people were always going to get sick to put on NBA basketball.
That’s exactly what has happened. To this point in the season, 24 games have been postponed due to health and safety protocols. The league still hasn’t announced the second half of the schedule because it wanted to leave room for games that had to be made up. The virus has been tearing through the NBA all season. The last thing anyone should be worrying about is an All-Star Game.
Also: what’s an NBA All-Star Game without the parties? Parties are a huge part of All-Star Weekend every year, but they can’t go on in the middle of a pandemic. If anyone involved with the production of the game is caught at a party in Atlanta, it will be a terrible look for the league.
The league should just name the All-Star rosters on television. Hold remote dunk and three-point contests if you must. Give a large donation to HBCUs and Covid relief anyway. All of this can be done without putting on an All-Star Game that players don’t want to play in and fans view as an unnecessary money grab.
The NBA’s handling of the virus after the bubble has shown the league’s top priority is still to make as much money as possible at every turn. It’s exhausting. There is no reason to have an All-Star this year. The show will go on regardless.