The Medic: The NBA is moving forward with the All-Star Game despite concerns

Columnist graphic for Pratik Thakur

The NBA will be hosting its annual All-Star Game in Atlanta this weekend. It was initially going to be held in Indianapolis, but since they are hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the NBA has changed its plans.

In last year’s game, the NBA changed the scoring format so teams would have to reach a certain score to win rather than the game ending based on time. Consequently, we witnessed one of the best All-Star games ever with an iconic finish between Team LeBron and Team Giannis in which the players actually tried to win, unlike most All-Star games which typically lack a lot of energy. In a normal season, we would expect players to want to return, but many of this year’s All-Stars are hesitant to join. 

LeBron James said he has “zero energy, zero excitement” for this season’s All-Star game. James said he already had to face a shortened offseason since the Lakers went to the Finals last season, and he wants a break. 

“They [the NBA] throw an All-Star Game on us like this and just breaks that all the way up,” James said. “So, um, pretty much kind of a slap in the face.”

Honestly, after I heard LeBron say that, I thought Adam Silver and the league would cancel the game since LeBron is the face of the league and the unofficial spokesperson for the players. But surprisingly, the game looks like it will go on. 

Obviously, we know the pandemic is what’s primarily causing players’ reluctance to go to the All-Star game and players likely want some time to relax. As James mentioned, this is a shorter season, and just as USC students needed a break from our own condensed semester, players need a break from their condensed season to maintain their health, both mentally and physically. 

Another issue with holding the All-Star game this year is that it can potentially contribute to the spread of coronavirus. We have seen many games get postponed and athletes not being cleared to play due to positive COVID tests, so it is a bad decision for the NBA to bring all its star athletes into the same area for the weekend. 

To add further context to the dangers the game poses, after the All-Star game is over, players like James and Brooklyn’s big three — Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden — are going back to their original teams in the country’s most highly populated cities after just spending the weekend with other players from all over the country.

Moreover, the NBA’s precautions for the All-Star game don’t seem very strong, which is only increasing apprehension towards the game. For example, COVID-19 vaccinated individuals do not have to go through daily PCR testing. Many coaches and personnel are on the older end, so they most likely got their vaccines, but just because you are vaccinated doesn’t mean you cannot transmit the virus to others. Also, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do not have 100% efficacy against the virus, so there are still risks by not testing everyone. 

Finally, players that are not taking part in the All-Star game festivities are still allowed to travel across the country, although they cannot stay in public areas such as hotels. Even though players that travel will be tested once they return to their team, the league and teams do not have full certainty that the players will adhere to strict protocols while traveling, and knowing the virus’s incubation period, players can potentially spread the virus further.

Holding the All-Star Game doesn’t seem like the best idea given the current circumstances. Even though cases are dropping and the national vaccine rollout continues, the coronavirus stilll poses a threat to countless Americans, and the All-Star game doesn’t really hold any value this year aside from functioning as a fun, but nonetheless meaningless, exhibition game.

Pratik Thakur is a sophomore writing about sports and its intersection with health policy during the coronavirus pandemic. His column, “The Medic,” runs every other Wednesday.