As the National Basketball Association nears the halfway point of the season, all eyes would normally be fixated on All-Star Weekend. During this annual break we have witnessed memorable moments such as Blake Griffin dunking over a car, Magic Johnson announcing his retirement after testing positive for HIV, and, in 2020, the league coming together to honor Kobe Bryant a month after his passing.
Eleven months later, in the midst of a pandemic, Lakers forward LeBron James has a different opinion about the All-Star Game.
LeBron isn’t at all excited about the prospect. I can’t blame him.
After the NBA announced the 73rd All-Star Game would take place March 7, reporters began asking players what they thought. James didn’t hold back.
“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” James said.“I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game.”
The league’s best-known player, James’ opinion carries some serious weight. Basketball fans are wondering if James’ fellow players share his disdain. One possible compromise is to make participation voluntary rather than mandatory, eliminating the hefty fines players would normally be assessed if they refused to play after being selected.
These times are unprecedented, and with either a limited number of fans attending, or none at all, I think the NBA should make All-Star Weekend optional.
The NBA should follow the lead of other major sports in the states. During its shortened 60-game season, Major League Baseball opted to elect all-stars, but didn’t have an all-star game as originally planned in Los Angeles.
The NFL during a normal season would host the best of the best in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl a week before the Super Bowl; however, the league canceled the game this year, although recognizing the top players and producing commemorative jerseys.
The NBA would be sacrificing revenue by canceling its All-Star Weekend. During last year’s events, the NBA generated around $15 million with broadcast partner TNT, which packed more than 160 advertisements during the game itself. Besides generating a profit, the event is a chance to bring attention to charities, and even, this year, to raise money for COVID-19 relief. Though a lot of good comes from All-Star Weekend, NBA players including Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard say health should be the highest priority.
It’s money on the line; it’s an opportunity to make more money,” Leonard told reporters last week via NBC Sports. “Just putting money over health right now, pretty much.”
After playing in the Florida Bubble during its abbreviated 2020 season, the NBA has had to deal with COVID-19 issues during the season that started in December.
Having players test positive has been relatively common, and 30 games have been postponed. Earlier this month, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant was taken out of a game after it was found out that he had come into contact with someone who had tested positive. Durant expressed his dismay on how the situation was handled.
Given the NBA’s experience with the virus this season, it’s tough to justify a mandatory All-Star Weekend. Players should decide if they want to partake. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to be safe.
Corey Kirk is sports editor for the Baker City Herald.