It’s risky, and it seems to go against everything the NBA tries to stand for, but the All-Star Game is happening.
Things have to be dotted and crossed, but it seems like a formality. The NBA will risk it all on red, players and personnel from all across the country convening down on Atlanta like it’s “Ocean’s Eleven” for one big heist.
Some teams have had a week’s worth of games canceled due to COVID-19 infections or contact tracing and the league doesn’t even have a second-half schedule yet to distribute publicly, but it will go forward with All-Star festivities that will take place on a day instead of a usual weekend.
Considering the summer bubble was pulled off without a relative problem and the league feels it’s gained more of a feel on how to conduct its business in relation to the virus since the season has started, it’s comfortable with the risk.
Tell that to the random, dangerous and deadly COVID-19, which can take lives mercilessly and without reason. Especially in Atlanta, which feels like a hotter spot than Florida was last summer when the NBA went to Walt Disney World and stayed for 100 days without incident.
It’s not in Atlanta as some cruel joke, but because Turner Studios is located there, it’s a much easier event to put on considering all the behind-scenes personnel won’t have to travel, and the players will only be there for a day or so, most likely quarantined until the game and shuffled immediately back to their home markets after.
Why the All-Star Game isn’t worth the risk
But like the Super Bowl just illustrated, where a barber for the Kansas City Chiefs could’ve infected the entire team — testing positive after five days of negative testing — all it takes is one cross interaction to turn a stripped-down event into an unwilling super-spreader party.
It doesn’t seem worth it, the variables too uncontrollable to the naked eye, but it’s understandable.
Some inside the league office rightfully claim players will take the All-Star break to go someplace exotic to get away — likely a place without stringent testing and carrying much more risk than a one-day event.
And while Bora Bora or the Caribbean could do things differently, if a player contracts the virus while away, the eye of the public will be on him.
If he does it at All-Star and brings it back to his market and his team, the league will have to wear it.
When the NBA made the decision to start the season when it did, during Christmas week when all of the infectious disease experts rightfully stated it would result in a huge spike in viruses across the country, it did so for the money.
And nothing stops the money train.
Fan voting is up, even from last year’s All-Star weekend in Chicago when the league was reeling from the untimely death of Kobe Bryant and prepping for its new rules which turned out to be wildly successful.
Next to the conference finals and NBA Finals, the signature event is All-Star weekend, with the most eyeballs and greatest opportunity to promote the game. Apparently, the players, or at least the ones with an audience with commissioner Adam Silver, want it.
So do the broadcast partners.
So it’s on, although players like Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox shouldn’t have their concerns drowned in the chorus of capitalism and show business.
“If I’m gonna be brutally honest, I think it’s stupid,” said Fox, who noted the league will fine players who are selected but don’t attend All-Star weekend. “Money makes the world go round, it is what it is.”
The NBA knows the dangers, hence the tightened protocols about player contact after games with handshakes and jersey exchanges, as if this isn’t a sport full of body contact for 48 minutes.
It flies in the face of common sense but the most recent wave of testing has shown no new cases — just some false-positives that have caused a few delays in the meantime.
The league feels comfortable moving forward with this, the financial rewards and capital among its younger subset of fans critical toward its continued growth.
Who knows how the money will be dispersed to HBCUs and if it’ll make a tangible impact, but clearly the players are on board with it — if they truly have a choice in this.
Why the players are agreeing to take part
Could they say no? Theoretically, but the blowback would likely be massive and it’s probably not worth the fight considering how both sides have navigated through the unease of COVID-19 with some real pragmatism.
Nothing about this virus feels practical, and anyone who doesn’t live in a bubble carries a level of risk every day, balancing what’s realistic with what’s important.
The NBA is just doing this on a much grander scale, the rewards more tangible, the consequences more unknown.
Earlier Thursday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was peppered about the league’s failure to hire anyone besides white men for head coaching positions despite the social climate, incentives and some of Goodell’s own wishes.
Those decisions were made by individual team owners who refuse to stand to account for the micro-actions that create an ugly macro picture.
Silver will soon have his turn, not as a sole caretaker for where the game is going, but as a representative for 30 NBA team owners. Owners who need this to happen to offset some of the financial losses they have incurred with the lack of fans in seats, but also owners who don’t have to take on the risk of flying into Atlanta for a day for a meaningless game.
These are also owners who may not take the chance to throwing on an unassuming mask to escape the hotel for a trip to Magic City, Body Tap or Strokers for a decent meal — hence why the wings and steaks should be delivered to the hotel to prevent such subterfuge.
It should make you feel a bit icky, and wonder if Silver is cashing in his goodwill for a cash grab. If the incentives are that plentiful, fine.
The NBA is a business, not a charity or altruistic enterprise. If it happens to spread some good cheer on the way to making money, so be it.
But it was and always has been a stretch to assign some moral or extra value to a sports league whose number one objective is to make money. It’ll take years to recoup lost revenue due to this pandemic and presumably, the jobs that impact people we don’t often see.
The NFL didn’t have a Pro Bowl, and it survived, getting to the finish line this weekend.
Its mantra is no different from the NBA’s, but we just see them differently.
Dolla, dolla bill, y’all.
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