For the most part, the NBA has done a good job navigating through the pandemic.
The playoff bubble was an excellent idea and it worked basically flawlessly.
And while that concept couldn’t work during a regular season — you can’t ask players and coaches to be isolated from their families for an entire season — the league has still been able to work through COVID-19 and keep the games and season moving along.
Enter the NBA All-Star Game.
Here, the league has definitely lost its way.
It really makes no sense.
First, there truly is no All-Star Game or All-Star Weekend without fans. It’s their event. They pick the players. That’s what makes it so special.
As someone who has covered and attended these events since the late ‘80s, there are few better experiences for fans than an NBA All-Star Weekend.
There are so many star-studded parties and events to hit. Usually, those are the highlights of the weekend. The basketball part is usually secondary.
That’s why Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued a warning on Tuesday, telling NBA fans that they are basically not welcomed in her fine city for the March 7 event.
Under normal circumstances, we would be extremely grateful for the opportunity to host the NBA All-Star Game, but this is not a typical year. I have shared my concerns related to public health and safety with the NBA and Atlanta Hawks. We are in agreement that this is a made-for-TV event only, and people should not travel to Atlanta to party.
Bottoms added that there will be “no NBA-sanctioned events open to the public” and that the city strongly encourages local businesses “not to host events in the city related to this game.”
Then why is there a game at all.
Knowing how stir-crazy, party-deprived fans would react to this event, the NBA just should have said no to this one.
For sure, this will backfire. Folks will be coming to Atlanta in droves. It could wind up being a disaster for the city and the NBA.
“They are going to take advantage to make money [during] All-Star Weekend in Atlanta,” said ESPN analyst Paul Pierce on the network’s hoops show The Jump. “There’s going to be promotions for a lot of parties.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be attending this year, but they will still find a way to have some fun doing All-Star Weekend.”
And ultimately, the blame will fall into the NBA’s lap.
When the season started, most honestly believed that there would be no All-Star Game. After all, MLB cancelled its All-Star Game in 2020. And this year’s Pro Bowl was cancelled by the NFL and played virtually by players and celebs, including Marshawn Lynch and Snoop Dogg.
There are just too many risks in playing an exhibition game that really doesn’t matter.
It would be one thing if there were some huge financial windfall by having the game. But it’s simply not the case.
The All-Star Game isn’t a separate entity, an event where you would lose a ton of cash if not played and televised.
It is simply a part of the deal the league has with the networks. Some have speculated that the NBA could have just scheduled more games that weekend to make up some of the lost games with the 10-game shorter regular season.
Normally, the NBA is usually in harmony with its players. But not on this.
The harshest comments have come from the league’s brightest star: LeBron James. LeBron is not feeling the event that his own Players Association signed off on. James isn’t alone. Other star players blasted the idea, including two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” James told the media. “I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game.”
Rightly, James pointed to the never-ending pandemic.
“Obviously you guys can see I’m not very happy about it, but it’s out of my hands,” said James, who called it a slap in the face to play the game when the players could use a break. “I’ll be there if I’m selected. But I’ll be there physically, but not mentally.”
And just watch. Massive numbers of NBA fans will be in Atlanta. And COVID cases will spike. And you can blame it on this damn unnecessary All-Star Game.