Jimmy Casey ‘22
The NBA’s All-Star Weekend has long been one of the league’s most captivating traditions. It’s a great way for the association to bring together its best players and showcase their incredible talents with events like the Skills Challenge, the 3-Point Shootout, and the Dunk Contest, along with the All-Star Game itself. Some of the most iconic moments in NBA history have happened on these stages – Jordan’s dunk from the free throw line, Magic’s return in 1992, Vince Carter’s performance in the 2000 Dunk Contest, and countless others. I’ve personally always loved seeing the NBA’s brightest stars put on a clinic. I have fond memories of watching 5’9” guard Nate Robinson soar over 6’11” Dwight Howard in the 2009 Dunk Contest, thinking to myself, “Wow. That’ll be me someday.” Little did I know, I’d barely be able to jump over the Sunday newspaper… but that’s beside the point… I’m still waiting on my growth spurt. Seriously though, what I’m trying to say is that I, like many, genuinely look forward to watching All-Star Weekend every single year. It’s quite the spectacle. But, as our country continues to struggle through the coronavirus pandemic, many people are asking the same questions: Is it really that important? Is it really worth risking the health of players, staffs, and their families?
Well, the answer to those questions seems to be a resounding yes. After originally canceling the game prior to the start of this season, the NBA and NBPA have changed course in recent weeks. They’ve decided to play the All-Star game on March 7, and, while nothing has been confirmed yet, it is believed that they are also planning on holding the aforementioned skills competitions. In other words, it sounds like All-Star Weekend will be business as usual. As I’ve stated above, I’m a big fan of the events and everything that comes with it, so my initial reaction was one of excitement. Yet, after thinking about it, I’ve found myself echoing the same questions that so many are asking. What’s the point? Sure, from a viewer’s perspective, it’s fun to watch these amazing athletes do things that I could only ever dream of doing. However, if some players and staff don’t feel comfortable with the plan, then the conversation should end there. It should be a no-go… but it’s not, and certain guys aren’t happy about it.
The backlash in response to these plans from fans and players alike has been interesting. LeBron James, who’s widely regarded as the face of the NBA, stated recently that he has “zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” and that it would be “pretty much kind of a slap in the face” for the league to go through with the game. Now, a lot of basketball fans like to joke about how LeBron “runs” the league and how the front office caters to his every want, but there’s no denying that his word holds significant weight. When he comes out and says something, it’s usually understood that he’s speaking on behalf of the entire league. In fact, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said of James’ comments, “The big dog says he has zero excitement and zero energy for the All-Star Game, and I’m the same way. I really right now don’t care about the All-Star Game. We cannot see our families.” After hearing this sentiment repeated by two of the association’s best players, I immediately scrolled through NBA Twitter and saw a lot of people tweeting the same thing that was going through my mind; “Oh, there’s no chance they’re going to have an All-Star Game now. Whatever LeBron says goes.” Yet, we’re now almost two weeks removed from those remarks, and there have been no talks of canceling.
Why Risk It?
The reason is complex, but it pretty much boils down to one key aspect: money. Like most other businesses in the United States, the NBA has taken a huge hit financially due to the pandemic. Being unable to host fans has impacted the financial framework of the league. Revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and more is absent. Thus, they need to make money elsewhere, and All-Star Weekend is a prime opportunity to do so. We’ve already seen the NBA make a decision centered around money when they decided to start the season in late December rather than waiting another month or two. Multiple players, including LeBron, opposed this early start, but the league was steadfast in their decision. After all, money really does matter, and the December start reportedly saved the league billions of dollars through television income.
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why this money is that important. Besides, the owners of these teams are multi-millionaires and billionaires. They don’t need the money, and neither do the biggest stars in the league. Guys who have lucrative long-term deals like LeBron and Giannis don’t have any viable motive for participating in an All-Star Game. The money will keep flowing into their pockets regardless, through commercials, shoe sales, and more. Where the problem arises is with the role players – the so-called “middle pack” of the association. These are the people who play a huge part on their respective teams, but who don’t necessarily have huge contracts by NBA standards. Some don’t even have guaranteed contracts, so they’re fighting to find a permanent job in the league. In a normal year, many of these players would be fine. Teams always have needs that they have to address during the offseason, and they are the ones who fill those needs. However, without the money to offer them, a lot of players will likely slip through the cracks and never get the chance to prove themselves.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, there are countless people who work for the NBA in some capacity, whether that be in the arenas or within the organizations. These people are affected by the lack of revenue as well. Franchises will have to cut costs if they continue to lose money, and the everyday workers will probably take the brunt of the hit. Because of this and the facets discussed above, it’s understandable why the league has remained so adamant about continuing with their plans, but all these reasons still might not be enough to justify the decision.
So… Why Not?
With all of that taken into account, it might seem like a no-brainer. The league needs the money for obvious reasons, so the players and staffs should fall in line. I’ve seen various tweets and posts suggesting that “whiny” stars like LeBron and Giannis should just persevere and give the fans a show, but there’s a lot more that goes into it. As Giannis alluded to, NBA players haven’t exactly had the easiest time with the adjusted schedule. Those that were in last season’s Orlando bubble had to endure months without seeing their families, and many players were outspoken about the toll that this took on their mental health. And while the league’s current protocols aren’t as strict as the bubble, the schedule is still difficult. Players and staffs need to be tested regularly, which prevents them from resting or spending time with family. Also, the NBA has instituted more back-to-back games in the same city in order to limit travel around the country. In turn, this means more time away from home. The inability to see family and friends is incredibly difficult no matter how much money one has.
As a result, mental health has increasingly become a topic of discussion in the NBA. Even before the pandemic, guys like DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love bravely shed light on their battles with depression and their advocacy for mental health awareness. Now, as we’ve seen throughout the country as a whole, people are struggling through these same issues because of the pandemic, and NBA players are no exception. Therefore, it’s certainly understandable why a fair amount of players don’t want the All-Star Game to happen this year. While it may generate some extra money, many of these guys just want a break. They want a few days to hang out with their families, to unwind, and to rest.
Moreover, it’s a potential health risk for players and teams. The league will definitely take the necessary precautions in order to safely execute its plan, but, even with constant testing, bringing in players from all over the country has significant risks. Some teams can’t afford losing one of their star players for a week or two, which could happen in the event of a positive case. We’ve already seen players have a hard time returning to form after coming back from their coronavirus hiatus, so the implications could be significant for the playoff push. Furthermore, if one of these players contracts the virus, that would mean even more time away from family and friends, as well as from the game they love to play. This, as I’ve noted, can be extremely taxing for players’ psyches.
Every NBA season is grueling, but this one has been uniquely hard. The combination of physical and mental distress that players have had to go through – from worrying about themselves to their families – is unprecedented. I think it’s warranted for them to request some time off. They deserve it. So… here goes nothing.
COMMISSIONER SILVER, I HEREBY DEMAND THAT YOU CALL IT OFF! NOW!
Hopefully he gets the message. Thanks for reading!