The NBA’s reported decision to hold an All-Star Game in the middle of both a pandemic and a condensed season has been met with widespread criticism from fans, media and players alike. On Wednesday, Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox called the idea of playing an All-Star Game “stupid,” and cited the unspoken motivation behind the decision by saying “money makes the world go ’round, so it is what it is.” Yet as of Thursday, the league had given no indication that it would consider changing course. If ever that were going to change, though, it would be after LeBron James spoke to the media after Thursday’s Lakers victory over the Denver Nuggets.
LeBron told reporters that he considered the choice to play the All-Star Game to be “a slap in the face.”
“I don’t even know why we’re having an All-Star game,” James said, before adding that he had “zero energy and zero enthusiasm” for the game. James currently leads all Western Conference players in voting, and even if by some miracle he missed out on the fan vote, he would be a lock to be selected as a reserve by the coaches. James, an early-season MVP candidate, is a lock to be selected to the All-Star Game in some form or another. He has been a captain for the previous three games.
Yet his voice carries more weight than any other player’s. He was integral in the league’s effort to restart the 2019-20 season in an Orlando bubble despite some resistance from the players union, with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley even saying that “if LeBron said we hooping, we all hooping.” While some reports suggested that he wanted to end the season and leave the bubble after the shooting of Jacob Blake, he was one of a small group of players that spoke to former President Barack Obama on the phone in the process of making the decision to remain in Orlando.
LeBron could theoretically skip the game and accept whatever fine he is given, but that is not currently his plan. “I’ll be there physically but not mentally,” James said. While the league seems unlikely to change its mind given the possible financial gain of playing the game, LeBron’s influence is unmatched in the NBA. His willingness to come out against an All-Star Game could theoretically persuade other players to do the same, creating a snowball effect that could force the NBA to reconsider.
If it does not, James would be forced to give up a five-day break that he, more than perhaps any other player in basketball, sorely needed. The Lakers got only a 71-day break between winning their championship in October and kicking off the 2020-21 season in December. James, now 36-years-old, has not missed a game this season. That vacation could have been critical rest for James as the league rushes its way through the season.
But as Fox said, money makes the world go around. The league has already lost billions of dollars in revenue since the start of the pandemic, and it is going to take any opportunity it can find to recoup some of what it has lost.