It's not Adam Silver's fault that Joel Embiid & Ben Simmons couldn't play in the All-Star Game, but the pregame public relations nightmare is on him

As predicted by pretty much everyone, Adam Silver’s push to hold this year’s All-Star Game did not go great.
As predicted by pretty much everyone, Adam Silver’s push to hold this year’s All-Star Game did not go great.
Photo: Getty (Getty Images)

On Saturday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver asked for grace and time.

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By Sunday, it was clear that we could have done without holding an All-Star Game during a pandemic in a city where it’s always been impossible to turn down a “turn up.” Sixers teammates Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were ruled out hours before the game and forced into quarantine under the league’s contact tracing policy after their barber tested positive for COVID-19.

Critics — like myself — as well as players, and even the mayor of Atlanta, all tried to warn Silver about having the event, but he wouldn’t listen. And on game day, Silver’s worst nightmare came true, as Embiid and Simmons were the only things people could talk about.

“The last thing we need is an outbreak to start the second half. I mean it looks like we may be having one as a team,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers, who also served as the head coach for Team Durant.

Paul George didn’t agree with the game. Bradley Beal was “reserved about it.” And we already knew LeBron wasn’t into it. “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,” said James last month. “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.”

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The 17-time All-Star only played 12 minutes on Sunday night, as he finished with 4 points, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds.

With the league coming off one of the greatest All-Star Games in its history last season, as Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 157-155 in Chicago, the luster that last season’s event created couldn’t be duplicated in Atlanta, as Team LeBron defeated Team Durant 170-150 in a blowout matchup in which the winning team was victorious in every quarter. The intensity and suspense from last year’s game were missing.

Oh, and if you didn’t already know, it seemed like almost everyone besides the players and their families were out enjoying the festivities, as Atlanta wasn’t going to let a global pandemic stop the party.

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On a positive note, a total of $3 million was distributed to HBCUs on Sunday, as the Thurgood Marshall College Fund received $1.25 million and the United Negro College Fund took home $500,000 on a night in which HBCUs were highlighted and uplifted throughout the evening.

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But, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel “convenient.” It’s not like HBCUs haven’t been around for over a hundred years. Because while the donations and spotlight are awesome, the support needs to be continuous and not viewed as a “good deed” the NBA can check off its to-do list. Besides, the money and attention that the league dedicated to HBCUs could have happened without playing a meaningless exhibition game during a pandemic.

TNT is located in Atlanta, which is also home to the Atlanta University Center, the oldest and largest grouping of Black colleges in the country. It makes you wonder why it took so long for a league as Black as the NBA to highlight Black schools in a city as Black as Atlanta, which is home to one of its biggest TV partners.

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Who knows?

But what I do know is that the league was determined to have the game, as there were plenty of financial motivators.

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“I don’t wanna say we didn’t have a choice, but it’s in our CBA. In our CBA, it says that there has to be an All-Star Game every year,” Beal said. “It’s a lotta language in there that can kinda get ugly if we don’t necessarily come down and go through with the All-Star Game.”

According to CNBC, it’s estimated that last year’s All-Star Game in Chicago generated approximately $24 million for TNT.

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“From an individual game, the All-Star Game is very profitable,” Todd Krizelman, co-founder and CEO of advertising firm MediaRadar, told CNBC. “It’s part of the business model that both the NBA and broadcasters depend on.”

The All-Star Game was going to take place despite a global pandemic because the league needed the money. Remember that the next Adam Silver says he’s putting the players first, as Doc Rivers will spend the next few days wondering who will be available to play on Thursday night.