Just as quickly as the NBA decided to move ahead with plans to host an All-Star Game this season in Atlanta on March 7, some of the league’s most powerful voices came out in direct opposition to the decision shortly after. De’Aaron Fox was the first player to publicly condemn the decision to host an All-Star Game in the middle of a pandemic on top of a condensed schedule for the league, saying the idea is “stupid.”
But the train really got going when LeBron James adamantly said he would have “zero energy and zero enthusiasm” for the game, while also calling it a “slap in the face.” Not ideal when the biggest star in the league isn’t on board with playing in the All-Star Game, especially considering LeBron has the most votes in the first returns of fan voting in the West.
Since James’ statement, there have been a handful of other stars around the league who have spoken out against holding the All-Star Game this season. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said he “doesn’t care about the All-Star Game,” as his mind is in other places right now.
“Like, I can’t worry about the All-Star Game. I want to see my family. I want to go see my little brother in Spain, I want my brother to come see me,” Antetokounmpo said. “So I’m the same way. I’ve got zero energy, zero excitement. At the end of the day, if they tell us we’re gonna show up, we’ve got to do our job. I’m always gonna do my job. I’m always showing up, showing the right example. But at the end of the day inside, deep down, I don’t want to do it. I want to get some break.”
In a season where teams are playing more than usual in any given week, and under heightened restrictions that don’t allow them to do much of anything while on the road due to the COVID-19 pandemic, guys around the league were certainly looking forward to having a few days to decompress before gearing up for the second half of the season. Brooklyn Nets superstar and former league MVP James Harden echoed the same sentiment as Giannis and LeBron after Brooklyn’s game Friday night.
“There’s so much going on as far as we’re trying to calm the virus down — and we’re putting on an event, you know?” Harden said. “I know what the reasoning is for, but I feel like, especially with a condensed schedule, it feels like everything was forced upon players. It’s already draining to be playing a lot of games in a week. I feel like that was a week for us to kind of relax, be with our families and kind of take a step back away from basketball.”
The “reasoning” behind it is likely due to money, as the league grapples with unprecedented financial losses due to not being able to have fans at most games. Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard said the league is putting “money over health” in its decision to put on an All-Star Game.
“I mean, we all know why we are playing it. You know, there’s money on the line,” Leonard said. “It’s an opportunity to make more money. … Just putting money over health right now, pretty much. Yeah, we are playing games now, and it is still a pandemic. We are doing all these protocols and rules, so it doesn’t really surprise me.”
Leonard, Harden and Giannis are all likely to make an appearance in the All-Star Game if the league continues on with its plan to hold one, and they are likely also not the only players who have that same opinion on the matter. However, Chris Paul, who is president of the National Basketball Players Association, said that they’re trying to listen to the opinion of all players when making these decisions.
“Guys are entitled to their feelings, decisions and everything,” Paul said. “I think the job for the union is to try to make sure our players are healthy and safe. This is something that was a decision by the league, and we are definitely, day in and day out, trying to figure it out. But we have 450 players that we are always trying to get insight from, and it’s tough, so we are trying to figure it out right now.”
Nothing has been finalized yet, and any decision made by the league regarding an All-Star Game would have to get approved by the players union, but the league has reportedly informed all 30 teams that they will have a finalized agreement with the NBPA next week, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“We get on calls and we try to figure it out with different situations of guys who’ve been playing a lot of games who haven’t really had much of breaks,” Paul said. “I’m sure I’m not the only guy in the league that lives without their family, so guys look at that break as an opportunity to see their families… The union has always got the full body of players in mind. But emotions happen, guys have feelings and you gotta be able to express them, and I respect that.”
If the league solidifies a plan to host the All-Star Game, it will be interesting to see how players respond during the festivities. Typically, the league has a rule that if a player is chosen to compete in the All-Star game, they are required to attend otherwise they will face a fine. However, in these agreements, there’s been discussion to allow players to opt-out of participating, and if that’s the case, the NBA’s biggest stars could choose that instead of playing. If guys like LeBron, Giannis and Harden decide to sit out, that would significantly diminish the league’s star power of the game, which could potentially make the All-Star Game not as financially worth it for the league.