By CHARLIE SNYDER STAFF WRITER
Players and fans alike are upset with the National Basketball Association (NBA) after recent announcements revealed plans for a rescheduled 2021 All-Star Game, that by no means should be taking place.
Originally set to take place in Indianapolis at the Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers, the 2021 NBA All-Star Game was announced on Feb. 4 to have been relocated. The game is now set to take place at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, home of the Atlanta Hawks on Mar. 7. The decision came just two and a half months after League officials decided that it would be unsafe to add any unnecessary games to an already jam packed 72-game schedule because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Considering that that pandemic has not magically disappeared in the last two months, this feels like a blatantly obvious and unsettling cash-grab from the NBA.
The decision to hold the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis was announced way back in 2017 and was estimated to provide the city with an 8-figure economic impact over the course of all-star weekend. The three day annual tradition has provided basketball fans with a brimful of entertainment for decades. Friday night typically consists of the All-Star Celebrity Game, as well as the Rising Stars Challenge. For the past six years, this has been an exhibition game between first and second year NBA talent, with teams split based on country of origin, “USA vs. World.” Saturday night consists of the ever so popular (and almost always controversial) Slam-Dunk contest, as well as the Three-Point contest and Skills Challenge. These three events have often stolen the show, with their display of the League’s most mesmerizing high-flyers and long-distance shooters. Finally, Sunday night caps everything off with the NBA All-Star Game, a display of the League’s greatest fan-voted talents, often split up by either team-captains or conference. For years, this has been one of the biggest weekends in basketball and pop culture, yet now no one wants any association with the event, not even the players.
First and foremost, the initial backlash towards the NBA’s decision started with none other than NBA poster-boy Lebron James. In a post-game interview shortly after the decision was announced, James called the move a “slap in the face.” In an interview with the LA Times, James said, “I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year… I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game.”
Lebron was not alone though, as his statement became the first of many dominoes to fall in disapproval of the league’s decision. De’Aaron Fox, the 23 year-old who has the opportunity to play in his very first All-Star game this year said via SB Nation that, “to be brutally honest, I think it’s stupid.” If a player in just his fourth year in the NBA is criticizing the unnerving decision, it is easy to imagine how veteran all-stars must feel.
To Minnesota Timberwolves star center Karl Anthony-Towns, the decision is understandably devastating. Towns has lost seven family members to COVID-19, including his mother. Recently, Towns himself contracted the virus and was lucky enough to have recovered. Given his experiences, he has been one of the strongest advocates for public safety throughout the league. Towns recently said in a post-game interview with the Star Tribune, “I personally don’t believe there should be an All-Star Game,” and then sarcastically added, “but what the hell do I know?”
Additionally, not even fans are particularly excited about this year’s All-Star Game. According to a poll from SB Nation asking fans whether or not the NBA should host the game, 61% of voters said no. What makes this particularly striking is that this is following arguably the best and most memorable All-Star Game in recent history. If anything, this should make fans want another All-Star Game even more, yet the only ones who seem to be excited about it are the ones who are profiting.
Evidently, the move to host the game in Atlanta had a lot to do with Atlanta being the home of NBA broadcast partner, TNT. Although this was disguised as a way for the production crew to put on the game without travelling, anyone familiar with sports broadcasting during the COVID-19 pandemic knows that broadcasting is possible through studios and even in homes throughout entirely different cities. In the end, what it comes down to is the money. TNT alone has been noted to have generated over $15 million from the 2020 All-Star Game, and players are not oblivious towards this. Los Angeles Clippers star and 2020 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard told reporters, “It’s an opportunity to make more money… Just putting money over health right now.”
In short, putting money over health is exactly what the NBA’s decision to hold a 2021 All-Star Game means. Despite implementing heavy safety regulations, cancelling All-Star Weekend is the right thing to do, and the NBA should not have to hesitate to reverse their decision.