Kawhi Leonard: NBA 'putting money over health' by holding All-Star game

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Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) is guarded by Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, is guarded by Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum during the second half of the Clippers' loss Friday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The pair of stars who dueled inside Staples Center on Friday could face one another again one month from now in Atlanta during the NBA’s All-Star weekend. Whether they want to be there is another question.

The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Boston’s Jayson Tatum became the latest likely All-Stars to express reservations about plans to hold the annual game on March 7 amid the NBA’s scheduled break from March 5 to 10.

“We all know why we’re playing it: It’s money on the line, it’s an opportunity to make more money,” Leonard said on a videoconference late Friday after the Clippers’ 119-115 loss to Boston. “Just putting money over health right now, pretty much.

“But we’re playing games now and it’s still a pandemic, we’re doing all these protocols and rules so it doesn’t really surprise me.”

Leonard has played in four of the last five All-Star games, earning most valuable player honors last season, and is in line to appear for a fifth time after receiving the third-most votes among Western Conference frontcourt players, according to the first round of results.

Asked whether he would rather spend the time with family, Leonard said his wishes didn’t matter.

“I’m not about to be stressing about what could or should have been happening," he said. "Take it for what it is.”

Tatum earned his first All-Star appearance last season and ranked fourth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players in early voting returns.

“I feel like for the most part they have done a great job of trying to keep us safe, though you can’t control everything,” he said Friday. “But I do understand the concerns about it, especially in Atlanta.”

The NBA and its players' association are expected to formalize an agreement for All-Star weekend next week, ESPN reported, including the health and safety protocols players will be required to follow whether they spend the time in Atlanta or elsewhere.

Leonard’s criticism echoed that of other stars who said they will take part, but with great reluctance.

Noting the NBA began the season without the expectation of staging an All-Star game out of concern over the season’s compressed schedule, and the continuing pandemic, Lakers star LeBron James blasted the plans Thursday, calling them a “slap in the face.”

Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo — who, like James, has been named an All-Star captain each of the last two seasons — said he would have “zero energy and zero excitement” to take part.

“Right now I don’t care about the All-Star game,” Antetokounmpo said. “We cannot see our families. I can’t worry about the All-Star game. I want to see my family, you know?

“… At the end of the day, if they tell us we gotta show up, we gotta do our job. I'm always doing my job. I'm always showing up, doing the right example. But at the end of the day inside, deep down, I don't want to do it. I want to get some break."

UP NEXT

VS. SACRAMENTO

When: Noon, Sunday

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket. Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Clippers are 2-0 against Sacramento, winning by an average of 28.5 points. Paul George will miss his second consecutive game because of swelling in the bone of a toe on his right foot, while Patrick Beverley (right knee) will miss his eighth straight game for the Clippers (17-7). The Kings (11-11) are coming off a 119-114 win Saturday against Denver. Sacramento’s defense has been the NBA’s most porous for much of the season, and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic scored 50 points, but the rest of the roster was held to 39% shooting. Kings reserve guard Tyrese Haliburton continued his strong rookie season with 23 points and six assists.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.