Just say no to unnecessary risk of a 2021 NBA All-Star game originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Several times during a global pandemic that has claimed lives and livelihoods and left devastating destruction in its wake, a sports moment has cut through the avalanche of awful.
It’s not so much the positive moments, which, indeed, have occurred as professional sports leagues attempt to provide some normalcy and/or salvage their economic model, and colleges try to safely appease the student-athletes and parents who seek competition and/or grease their economic engines.
It’s more when Justin Turner joins his Dodgers teammates to celebrate a World Series victory mere hours after he tested positive for COVID-19. Or when college students storm the Notre Dame football field to celebrate a victory over top-ranked Clemson. Or when a courtside Karen gets kicked out of Atlanta’s Philips Arena for heckling LeBron James.
These are the moments that give pause. That make you question how historians will view such attempts when they study this pandemic.
Coincidentally, Atlanta would be the site of a potential March 7 NBA All-Star game. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday morning that this idea, in conjunction with the players association, is gaining momentum to be a reality.
This sounds more like a bad dream.
As of Wednesday, the league had postponed 24 games due to the health and safety protocols agreed to with the players associations. This has included two Bulls games and the Pistons game in Denver on Monday night that got postponed shortly before tipoff due to contact tracing.
The second half of the schedule has yet to be released because the league built in wiggle room to address first-half postponements.
The league already canceled the original February All-Star weekend scheduled for Indianapolis. And any potential gathering in Atlanta wouldn’t be able to stage all the corporate events and fan-friendly extravaganzas inherent in typical All-Star weekends.
As usual, there’s a palatable way to protect at least one brazen benefit of playing the game, which is Atlanta-based Turner Sports televising it and selling advertising for it. And there is the charitable component, which, Wojnarowski reports, has union president Chris Paul’s support and would benefit historically Black colleges and universities and COVID-19 relief organizations.
From the perspective of the league and players association, there are other benefits to staging the event -- as long as the medical experts that it consults on all decisions assures that it can be done safely. The event, which also would feature skills competitions, is huge for fan engagement. Some players have asked for it. And holding it would allow for a significantly greater charitable donation.
It still doesn’t add up.
If safety protocols are thorough and well thought out, all leagues are entitled to try what is necessary to salvage their economic models. It’s why a regular season outside a bubble -- and its inherent bumps -- is happening.
But there’s risk and there’s unnecessary risk. And it’s as simple as this: Holding an All-Star game during a pandemic adds that simple modifier.
Fans are engaged via voting. Name the teams. Players receive their due recognition. Make a charitable donation, even if it’s for less money. Call it a day.
In the big picture, it shouldn’t matter if the league and players association believe they can pull the one-day event off like any other road game. Or if some players, like the Bulls’ Zach LaVine, might be deprived of a first-time appearance.
“More than fine with me,” LaVine said of the possibility of a game. “I think the NBA knows what they’re doing. I think they’ll obviously make everything safe. I don’t think they would do the game if it wasn’t safe for the players or the fans. So I’m always up for that.’’
Focus on finishing the regular season and playoffs as safely as possible, particularly since the full effect of the long-term effects of this coronavirus for some people remains unknown. This is one exhibition that doesn’t need to be played.
The NBA and NBPA did a masterful job concluding the 2019-20 season and have adroitly addressed the issues that have arisen this season. Tackling something that creates unnecessary risk isn’t necessary.
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