Press-Telegram (Long Beach)
All-Star Game nobody seemed to want is here State of the NBA
It’s the NBA All-Star Game almost no one seemed to want.
ertainly not the players, who scoffed at the notion of playing an exhibition game in the midst of a pandemic.
The city of Atlanta, picked as a replacement for original host Indianapolis, didn’t seem so thrilled with the idea, either.
The mayor urged fans to stay away from an event renowned for wild parties and packed streets. Police scheduled 12-hour shifts and canceled off days in an attempt to crack down on any events that could lead to a surge of COVID-19 cases.
But the league pressed forward, eager to improve its bottom line and its brand by televising the popular midseason showcase around the world.
The NBA’s best will take the court today in a one-night-only, hastily arranged event at mostly empty State Farm Arena, where only a limited number of invited guests will be allowed to watch in person.
“All-Star is part of our league. It’s no different than all the other games we play,” Commissioner Adam Silver said. “It begins and ends with the fans. This is
Today: All-Star Game, Team LeBron vs. Team Durant at Atlanta, 5 p.m. TNT
an event the fans love to see. They love to see the players come together.
“But,” he quickly added, “nothing comes without controversy in a pandemic.”
The league’s biggest stars, led by LeBron James, would have preferred getting some much-needed time off during the six-day break.
James even went so far as to call it “a slap in the face” to players who had little time to recover from last year’s interrupted season, which was completed in a central Florida bubble, and are still dealing with burdensome protocols intended to stifle the coronavirus as much as possible (but still weren’t enough to prevent the postponement of 31 games in the first half).
Now that it’s game on, James is trying to make the best of the situation, using the All-Star platform to carry on with his efforts to expand voting rights — a fitting gesture with the game being held in a state that was one of the focal points of the 2020 election.
The NBA is expecting arenas to be filled again next season and a return to its normal calendar, Commissioner Adam Silver said, while cautioning again that every plan is contingent on continued progress in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus.
There are no plans for the league to travel overseas next season for exhibitions or regular-season games, Silver said, meaning recent preseason trips to foreign markets such as China, Japan or India won’t be repeated until 2022 at the earliest. But otherwise, things may largely appear back to normal — with the NBA eyeing a return to the 82-game schedule, starting in October and ending in June.
“I’m fairly optimistic, at this point, that we will be able to start on time,” Silver said from Atlanta, in his annual news conference that precedes the All-Star Game. “Roughly half our teams have fans in their arenas right now and, if vaccines continue on the pace they are and they continue to be as effective as they have been against the virus and its variants, we’re hopeful that we’ll have relatively full arenas next season as well.”