LeBron James Is Right about the All-Star Game
Before the season started, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that they would not hold an All-Star Game, but recently, the NBA struck an agreement with the National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA) to hold an All-Star Game on March 7 in Atlanta, leaving players without the previously promised five-day break.
Before the season started, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that they would not hold an All-Star Game, but recently, the NBA struck an agreement with the National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA) to hold an All-Star Game on March 7 in Atlanta, leaving players without the previously promised five-day break. This new decision allows the NBA a chance to regain some revenue after suffering hefty losses over the past year from the Covid-19 pandemic. The All-Star Game will also serve as a fundraiser, as it has in recent years, for both Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) and Covid-19 relief, although the league is still finalizing the precise details of this. With the pandemic and other factors, the timing seems inopportune to say the least. Additionally, due to the All-Star Game’s steady decline in viewership and popularity over the past two decades, it would’ve been in the NBA’s best interest to keep the All-Star Game off the agenda as they had originally planned.
The decision to hold an All-Star Game has received much criticism from fans and athletes alike, with many notable players speaking out against the sudden change of plans. Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, widely regarded as the face of the NBA, told the media: “I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year…[It’s] a slap in the face” (per ESPN). James cited the short turnaround between the end of the NBA bubble in October 2020 and the commencement of this season just two months after in December as one reason why the All-Star Game wouldn’t be a good idea. The five-day break that was initially scheduled would have served as a prime opportunity for players to rest and spend time with family during this chaotic season. Now, the All-Stars will spend this break travelling and participating in events.
James also pointed to the Covid-19 pandemic as yet another reason to not hold the All-Star Game; it poses a unique threat as players from multiple teams will travel to one location and then back to their home cities just a few days later. If there were to be an incident of exposure, the players would most likely bring the virus back to their teams, initiating a potential multi-team outbreak and a league nightmare.
Considering the pandemic-related factors that James identified, the timing is not right to hold an All-Star Game. Additionally, the declining popularity of the All-Star Game also prompts the question of whether the NBA should even preserve the tradition at all. The 2002 All-Star Game drew 13.1 million viewers, whereas the 2019 contest attracted only 6.8 million (per Nielsen via ShowBuzz Daily). The 2020 contest was an outlier from this declining trend, as the game served as a tribute to the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. Nonetheless, the NBA clearly needs to take steps to revitalize the declining tradition. The clear culprit of the decline is the lack of competitiveness in the games themselves. The NBA attempted to address this problem by switching from the traditional East vs. West format to a team captain format in 2018. This change only marginally increased the quality of the game, so it was a step in the right direction, but the game’s lack of competitiveness remains a problem. The larger issue at hand is that the games are less physical and less defensive than they were just 10 years ago, resulting in many wide-open dunks and shots, extremely high scores, and overall boring basketball.
The truth is, players don’t want to get injured in a ‘meaningless’ game, so they don’t put 100 percent of their effort into the game as they would during a regular season game - a more difficult issue for the NBA to address going forward. Long story short, the All-Star Games of recent years (excluding last year’s) have been uninspiring. Exasperating the lack of inspiration for participating athletes, this year’s contest will take place in a near-empty arena, as Covid-19 will heavily restrict admittance. This will drastically decrease the in-person energy level, which is one of the few things that has remained constant over the past two decades. The 2021 season provided the NBA with the perfect opportunity to take a year off from the declining tradition and reconsider how to improve it moving forward, however the NBA did not hesitate to pounce on the opportunity to recuperate recent revenue losses.
In the past few years, the NBA has attempted to improve the quality of the All-Star Game, however it’s still not up to par with the more intense, nail-biting contests of old. Additionally, due to the pandemic and other factors, this year’s All-Star Game is shaping up to be more of an ordeal rather than an honor, and with players already speaking out against the NBA’s change of plans, holding an All-Star Game is clearly not the right move for the NBA right now.