‘Slap in the face’ NBA All-Star Game will be March 7 in Atlanta

Published February 19, 2021, 9:13 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center on February 16, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

The NBA on Thursday confirmed plans to hold an All-Star Game next month, with commissioner Adam Silver defending the move as “the right thing to do” despite an outcry from star players led by LeBron James.

The league announced Thursday that the 70th NBA All-Star Game will be played March 7 in Atlanta along with such skills events as the Dunk Contest and 3-Point Shootout.

“NBA All-Star in Atlanta will continue our annual tradition of celebrating the game and the greatest players in the world before a global audience,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

It comes during a mid-season break that originally was meant to give every player a rest after more than a month was shaved off the usual off-season gap as Covid-19 delayed the finish of the 2019-20 NBA playoffs.

James and other players have been scathing about the decision to go ahead with the game in recent weeks, with the Los Angeles Lakers star describing it as a “slap in the face.”

Silver told ESPN that he understands the complaints but called it “the right thing to do” to play the game.

“I certainly hear the other side of this issue,” Silver said. “It seems like no decisions during this pandemic come without uncertainty and come without risk. This is yet another one of them.

“And yet it’s my job to balance all those interests and ultimately it feels like the right thing to do to go forward.”

Final voting for the All-Star Game starters was to be announced later Thursday with James having been the top vote-getter overall in last week’s partial totals. The format will see the top vote-getters from both the Eastern and Western conferences named captains and squad selectors, so it’s likely Lakers superstar James will serve as captain in a game he’d rather not be playing.

“We came off a short off-season of 71 days and then coming into season we were told we were not going to have an All Star Game so we would have a nice little break,” James said earlier this month. 

“Then they throw an All-Star Game on us like this. It is pretty much a slap in the face.”

James was the top overall vote-getter from fans with 5,922,554 to pace the Western Conference while Brooklyn forward Durant led the Eastern Conference with 5,567,106.

“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” James said two weeks ago. “I am not happy about it. If I am selected I will be there physically but not mentally.”

James and Durant will pick fellow starters from among a record five starters born outside the United States — Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Dallas guard Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Philadelphia forward Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Denver frontliner Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Brooklyn guard Kyrie Irving, an American born in Australia.

Others in the starters pool include Golden State guard Stephen Curry, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, the NBA scoring leader.

‘Don’t want to do it’

The league and the National Basketball Players Association struck a deal for the contest that will see $2.5 million committed to Covid-19 relief organizations and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

While the charity benefit aspects will please players, the idea of losing even one day off their only meaningful rest break in a season that will stretch the NBA Finals into late July didn’t sit well with several players likely to compete.

“We all know why we’re playing it,” Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard said earlier this month. “There’s money on the line. It’s an opportunity to make more money.”

Players were expecting a week off for a mid-season break after agreeing to return before Christmas with only a two-month off-season.

The NBA Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest will be staged before the All-Star Game with the Dunk Contest taking place during halftime.

Extra Covid-19 safety precautions atop the NBA’s normal protocols include private travel to and from Atlanta, the creation of a “mini bubble” environment within one hotel for players and coaches and enhanced Covid-19 testing.

Silver said Atlanta was chosen to host because the telecasting network is based there.

There will be no spectators, parties or special events and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms wants fans to stay away.

“Under normal circumstances we’d be grateful for the opportunity to host the NBA All-Star game, but this isn’t a typical year,” she tweeted. 

“I’ve shared my concerns w/ @NBA & @ATLHawks & agree this is a made-for-TV event only & people shouldn’t travel to Atlanta to party.”