Last Thursday, it was announced that the NBA and Players Association agreed on a deal to hold the 2021 All-Star Game on March 7. What pandemic? While All-Star voting was always going to take place, the game itself was set to be scrapped heading into the 2020-21 season. The decision to congregate the league’s top players in Atlanta is head-scratching, and ultimately feels like a cash grab to recoup lost revenue from the lack of in-stadium fans.
The All-Star Game isn’t possible without players, who don’t seem interested in participating, like, at all. Following a shortened offseason, the removal of the All-Star Game was to give players a five-day break. Most players will get to enjoy that break, but for the league’s top performers, it only adds another layer to an already-hectic season. LeBron James, who currently leads the Western Conference with 2.2 million votes, called the league’s decision “a slap in the face,” saying he has “zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year.” James’ sentiments were supported by the reigning back-to-back MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who said he doesn’t care about the game, stating that he’d like to see his family and take time off. Can’t wait to watch an All-Star game with even less effort. I hope there’s a mass boycott by the league’s stars so that the weekend becomes a celebration of Miles Bridges’ budding rap career.
The most direct shot at the NBA’s decision came from the notoriously-quiet Kawhi Leonard, who took aim at the financial aspect of the game, calling it “an opportunity to make more money. Just putting money over health right now, pretty much.” Obviously this is a ploy to make the league money; there’s nobody that truly believes this is for the benefit of fan entertainment. In 2020, the pandemic, controversy with China, and the bubble’s operation costs led the NBA to miss their revenue projections by $1.5 billion. I’m not an economist, but that’s a lot of money! The start of the 2020-21 season was rushed, leaving an offseason of only 71 days as the league attempted to limit further potential revenue losses.
While it’s clear what the intentions behind the All-Star Game are, it remains confusing as a “get rich quick” scheme. Atlanta is one of ten organizations allowing fans into their games, but in a very limited capacity; only 1,700 fans per game. The best part of All-Star Weekend is the atmosphere, as the thunderous roar of the crowd can’t be ignored during any event. How much revenue can be derived from 10% stadium capacity? Surely not enough to justify risking the health of the league’s best players. All signs point to an incredibly boring game that nobody—players or fans—wants a part of. There’s nothing fun about watching a hungover James Harden lightly jog and bomb 30-foot threes if there aren’t 21,000 fans who paid $4,000 to be there. Plus, with sure-to-be inflexible COVID restrictions, Harden won’t even get to hit Magic City ahead of the game; him sweating out alcohol has become an ASG ritual. It’s bad luck to break rituals.
The NBA did an outstanding job with the bubble and has seen progress in the number of players testing positive over the last couple of weeks, but they need to read the room. We’re in the midst of a pandemic; nobody is losing sleep over the absence of an All-Star Game. There’s also a lack of self-awareness surrounding this, with Friday’s matchup between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors serving as a prime example. Kevin Durant started the game, only to be pulled out due to a potential COVID exposure earlier in the day. After being allowed to re-enter, Durant was pulled again in the third quarter after the exposure returned a positive test. Durant, who returned three negative tests in 24 hours, took his frustrations to social media, tweeting “FREE ME." Safe to say there’s a bit of animosity between the players and the league. The KD fiasco hasn’t been the first COVID-related incident the league has dealt with this season. Dozens of games have been postponed, and organizations like the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat have played multiple games with depleted rosters, which has had an adverse effect on the standings.
If the NBA had everything COVID-related completely under control, then sure, have an All-Star Game. But when LeBron, the ambassador of your league, publicly questions your decisions and outright says he doesn’t care about the game, then maybe it’s time to consider rolling the whole thing back. For fuck’s sake, even Kawhi called out the league’s greedy thought-process. It’s a bad idea, and for a league that is largely considered ahead of the curve, it’s an even worse look. The NFL didn’t even do the Pro Bowl and they’re the NFL! Do better, Adam Silver.