The 2021 NBA All-Star game in Atlanta shouldn’t happen

Hawks guard Trae Young fouls Lakers forward LeBron James in the final seconds of a 107-99 loss to the Lakers Monday, Feb.1, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Hawks guard Trae Young fouls Lakers forward LeBron James in the final seconds of a 107-99 loss to the Lakers Monday, Feb.1, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

If the NBA stages an All-Star game in 2021, it will be held at State Farm Arena on March 7. (It originally was set for Indianapolis but, you know, COVID.) This has yet to be officially announced. It might never be. If you access the All-Star game’s splash page on NBA.com, you’ll find no logistical information. There’s nothing about Atlanta, State Farm Arena or the game’s date and time.

By not telling us much of anything, the NBA is telling us all we need to know about the 2021 All-Star game. Even the NBA isn’t sure an event targeted for the first weekend in March will happen – and we’ve just arrived at Valentine’s Day. This All-Star game is as tentative as it’s possible to get, and the “tent” part could collapse at any moment.

Could. And should.

Said LeBron James: “I have zero energy and zero excitement about the All-Star game this year. I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star game.”

Said Kawhi Leonard: “We all know why we’re playing it. It’s money on the line; it’s an opportunity to make more money. Just putting money over health right now, pretty much.

Then: “It’s still a pandemic ... so it doesn’t surprise me.”

Back to LeBron: “Short offseason for myself and my teammates, 71 days. And then coming into this season, we were told that we were not having an All-Star game, so we’d have a nice little break. Five days from the 5th (of March) through the 10th, an opportunity for me to kind of recalibrate for the second half of the season. … And then they throw an All-Star game on us like this and just breaks that all the way up. So, um, pretty much kind of a slap in the face.”

Said De’Aaron Fox of Sacramento: “I’m going to be brutally honest. I think it’s stupid. If we have to wear masks and do all this for a regular game, what’s the point in bringing the All-Star game back?”

Then: “You know you get fined if you’re supposed to be in it and you’re not hurt and decide not to play. That’s a hefty fine, so hell, yeah, I would play in it. I hope I don’t get fined for saying that.”

The NBA is justly seen as the smartest of leagues. If anyone gave an award for “savviest performance in a pandemic year,” it would have been presented – albeit in a virtual ceremony – to Adam Silver. The NBA commissioner worked with everyone from epidemiologists to event planners to TV execs to a strong-willed group of basketball players to build a bubble smack in the middle of Disney World, and doggone if he/they didn’t pull it off.

Everyone hated the food, and the latter part of the playoffs were a snooze, but hey … the NBA played a season rent by COVID-19 to some sort of conclusion. Silver did what nobody believed could be done.

But now there’s no bubble – that was a one-shot thing; no player will again agree to spend 95 days bubbled up, as LeBron and his Lakers did – and, as Leonard noted, the virus remains. The great Kevin Durant was prevented from starting a game last week because of an iffy test result. Then he was cleared to enter the fray. He scored eight points in 19 minutes. Come the third quarter, he was re-barred. Tweeted Durant, who had already had the virus: “Free me.”

Karl-Anthony Towns of Minnesota lost his mother and six other family members to COVID. Then he tested positive. Said Towns, who’s 25: “I am a high-risk case. COVID did not treat me well whatsoever.”

Then: “You hear those stories where people get COVID. And they’re like, ‘Oh, for four days, five days, I didn’t feel well, and then I turned the corner magically one day, and I was feeling great.’ That did not happen with me.”

Towns was cleared to play this week after missing nearly a month. He was asked about the All-Star game. “I personally don’t believe there should be an All-Star game, but what the hell do I know? I obviously haven’t dealt with COVID, probably a guy who has some insight into that. What should I know about COVID, right?”

(I believe this is called sarcasm.)

The NBA, which asked the world of its players last summer and is asking those same players to fly around a goodly part of this world with a pandemic still raging, needs to cut these men all possible slack. This All-Star break should be just that – a vacation from their job and its usual requirements. The NBA shouldn’t ask its brightest stars to add another layer of travel and risk to their already frightful schedule. It shouldn’t summon guys to Atlanta for an abbreviated dunk contest. (Just run the tape of Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan from 1988.)

Surely the smartest league wouldn’t do a supremely silly thing like enrage its players over a game that doesn’t count. Surely, I say.

About the Author

ajc.com

In Other News