All-Star Weekend has long been a staple of the NBA calendar and though the league appears to be gearing up for a March 7th showcase in Atlanta, that plan has been met with significant pushback from players including LeBron James, who wants no part of staging an All-Star Game during a pandemic.
“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year," the reigning Finals MVP told reporters after beating the Nuggets Thursday night at Staples Center. “I don't even understand why we're having an All-Star Game." The Lakers forward went on to call the proposed All-Star Game a “slap in the face” after players, many of them still running on fumes from the shortest offseason (73 days) in NBA history, were promised a five-day layoff from March 5th to March 10th.
“Obviously, you guys can see that I'm not very happy about it,” said LeBron via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “I'll be there if I'm selected. But I'll be there physically, not mentally."
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo also spoke out against the All-Star Game, echoing LeBron’s earlier sentiment in his post-game remarks Friday night. “I really, right now, don't care about the All-Star Game,” said Giannis in comments transcribed by ESPN’s Eric Woodyard. “I want to see my family.”
Brooklyn Nets newcomer James Harden had also been looking forward to a break. “I know what the reasoning is for, but I feel like, especially with a condensed schedule, it feels like everything was forced upon players,” Harden mused following the Nets’ loss to Toronto Friday night. “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."
Last year’s All-Star MVP Kawhi Leonard offered a more cynical perspective, accusing the league of prioritizing money over players’ health. “We all know why we're playing it,” said Leonard. “It's opportunity to make more money. Just putting money over health right now, pretty much."
Kings guard De’Aaron Fox was the first to voice his opposition to the All-Star Game earlier this week. That seemed to open the floodgates with LeBron and others expressing similar concern. The recent wave of criticism from players has put Chris Paul, longtime president of the NBPA, in a difficult position.
“Guys are entitled to their feelings, decisions and everything,” said the Suns veteran, trying to take a more diplomatic approach. “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.”
With players still catching their breath from last season, it’s easy to see why the league is having a hard time drumming up enthusiasm for an All-Star Game in the middle of their vacation. You can understand why the NBA would be reticent to scrap one of its flagship events, particularly in the wake of recent revenue losses (COVID strikes again), but with players largely uninterested, you have to wonder if it’s worth the effort.