Over the past several years, the NBA has been a beacon of success in supporting its players and embracing progressive movements in the U.S., especially since Adam Silver became commissioner in 2014.
But the league’s latest decision in light of the COVID-19 crisis has been met with much controversy; amidst a global pandemic, the NBA has decided to hold its annual All-Star exhibition game in Atlanta March 7. This is a dangerous decision for a league concerned with safety, and I strongly urge them to cancel the event.
The NBA has worked so hard to implement COVID-19 protocol to maintain safety, and holding an unnecessary All-Star Game would undermine all that work and put many people at risk.
Let’s take a step back and look at the league’s response to COVID-19 over the last 12 months.
The early days of the pandemic were strange and uncertain, but the NBA couldn’t have handled things better. It displayed swift, decisive action at a dire time, suspending the season March 11 amid safety concerns. This was a surprising move at first, but other professional leagues quickly followed.
The league was also creative in finding a way to continue the season by creating a hugely successful “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, allowing the league to finish the remainder of the 2020 season safely. During the bubble, it supported players’ kneeling for the anthem and postponing playoff games in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake and the widespread police brutality that came to national attention in 2020. The league has a strong track record of smart management, especially during the pandemic.
So why is the NBA flipping the script now?
The NBA’s reported loss of 10 percent ($1.5 billion) of its revenue due to COVID-19 is likely their main motivation to have an All-Star game. The most fun weekend of the season would help make up that lost money and pay lower-paid employees facing pandemic-induced budget cuts.
But players and owners have already proven their willingness to donate to arena workers in need. Besides, this year’s All-Star Weekend would look nothing like normal. League experts expect severely restrictive protocols to be put in place for the weekend, taking all the fun out of a spectacle that is supposed to be just that.
The league’s top players have heavily scrutinized the league’s All-Star Game decision.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Laker and longtime face of the association, called the planned All-Star game “a slap in the face” and declared he had “zero energy, zero excitement” for it, a sentiment echoed by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Players have also criticized the league’s COVID-19 policy. Superstar Nets forward Kevin Durant took to Twitter to say that NBA fans “aren’t dumb” while calling out the league’s PR strategy after a nonsensical COVID-19 protocol allowed him to play in a game after coming in contact with someone who had an inconclusive test result. That test turned out to be positive, and Durant had to exit mid-game.
If the league is concerned about safety, why wasn’t the whole game canceled? Better yet, why was Durant allowed to play at all?
Some of these rules simply don’t make sense. Having two teams in a building at a time has been enough of a risk. Adding players from all across the country to the mix for an All-Star game would be hypocritical and dangerous.
Instead of hiding behind words like “abundance of caution,” the NBA should cut the performative language and back up their words with action. And by action, I mean canceling the All-Star exhibition.
This is crucial, especially since 24 games have already been postponed due to COVID-19, new strains prove to be even more transmissible and the NBA community has directly felt the impact of the virus on multiple fronts. Beloved NBA TV reporter Sekou Smith lost his battle to COVID-19 Jan. 26. Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has lost a staggering seven family members to the virus and contracted a bad case of it himself, causing him to miss 20 games.
This is bigger than basketball. Lives are at stake. As a model to millions of people, the NBA is fully aware its actions have impacts beyond the scope of its players. Everyone wants things to be normal again, but wishful thinking and an unnecessary risky exhibition games get us nowhere. After taking such care at the beginning of the pandemic, the NBA and the public have both trailed off, as evidenced by the millions of fan votes for the All-Star Game that show the public’s willingness to risk their favorite players’ safety to see them play.
No matter what decision the league comes to, people will be upset. But choosing between upsetting some fans and risking the safety of countless players and employees should be a no-brainer, especially with vaccines predicted to become available relatively soon.
Canceling the All-Star Game certainly isn’t the fun answer, but we all know it’s the safest. For a league that insists safety is a priority, I hope they sit this one out.