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NBA

Nobody Wants This All-Star Game

NBA commissioner Adam Silver gestures as he addresses a press conference ahead of the NBA basketball match between Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets at The AccorHotels Arena in Paris on January 24, 2020. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)
Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images

There is a low-budget movie to be made from the saga of the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, and by that we mean an apocalyptic end-of-worlds-with-cheesy-explosions-style battle epic between Adam Silver dressed as George Patton (meaning the least convincing general’s outfit ever on a man who needs 12 coathangers to fill it out) and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms behind a 75/85 freeway barricade urging a small army of intrepid school kids to keep the basketball players out. You could have pestilential zombies, an army of celebrity-stuffed tour buses, the National Guard trying to take the Turner studios like they do in all the big-kids’ coups, and LeBron James as the lonely conscientious objector who leads the player mutiny that ultimately defeats the invasion from within.

We’d have done our own screenplay of it from Defector Studios, but a quick check of the staff showed that nobody had an extra 15 minutes to take from their lunch hour, nor an Etch A Sketch to whip up some storyboards.

Still, there’s something here. The mayor is actively urging fans not to come to Atlanta for the March 7 Festival Of Germs, in what we are sure is an unprecedented event; a politician demonstratively speechifying, “Don’t come here, and don’t bring your money with you” must surely be a first in political and sports history. Even Bottoms’s statement which said, “OK, you can play, but don’t stay out too late” seemed to be asking, “Are you people mental?”

“Under normal circumstances, we would be extremely grateful for the opportunity to host the NBA All-Star Game, but this is not a typical year,” is what she actually said. “I have shared my concerns related to public health and safety with the NBA and the Hawks. We are in agreement that this is a made-for-TV event only, and people should not travel to Atlanta to party. There will be no NBA-sanctioned events open to the public, and we strongly encourage promoters, clubs, bars, etc. not to host events in the city related to this game.”

The problem is that some sports fans, especially ones with money and a need to be seen with athletes and celebrities, tend to have at best a casual and at worst an antagonistic relationship with safety—especially in the college sports belt, where they defend their constitutional right to tongue-kiss a light socket while shotgunning beers into their earholes and wearing their masks as an ineffective jock strap in the spirit of “college years.” Bottoms has grasped that (a) an All-Star Game will draw people, (b) an All-Star Game with people is a health-and-safety apocalypse, and (c) Trae Young is not yet a sure-fire vote-getter among her constituency.

TNT, for its part, is naturally keen for the game, but in a year devoted mostly to the sanctification of the schedule and dismissal of science (read any tweet that congratulated the NFL for not giving in to the Stalinist demands of health professionals), and in contrast to the postponed and canceled games in all other sports since March (well past 500 and the NBA and NHL add to the number daily), this is the first one where the popular vote against holding an event is actually Everyone-30.

And the list of players who think this is a daft idea entirely has grown to the mathematical sign for “damned near all the people you want to see.” LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard are already complaining the game should not be held, and that just covers the 213 area code. We are one Karl-Anthony Towns “Let me tell you about COVID” PSA from all the players slapping on blue face paint and chanting Braveheart-style, “You can fine us, but you’ll never take our lungs.”

So let’s review. A game that is supposed to be a celebration of the sport is now joy-free—a sort of turbo-Wizards-Wolves game. A civic weekend of unconfined substance-boosted glee is now reduced to the Mardi Gras of quarantine and “Closed To The Public” signs. A chance for multiple photo ops with the stars has been degraded to a single shot of a cop on horseback droning on monotonously, “Move along. Nothing to see here. Go away.”

The entertainers are all calling in angry and uninterested as though this were the lowest of the low: a Pro Bowl. The people putting on the event are telling the entertainers to come in and out of town under cover of darkness as though it were a meeting of mob families in the ’50s. And now the mayor, who traditionally would pander for votes in an active lava flow, is begging potential future voters, whether local or, if she has larger aspirations, outlanders, to find something else to do far, far away. The annual Novichok Festival has better PR, and yet the All-Star Game is still scheduled 18 days out as part of the “We Stopped Caring Long Ago” series.

At this point, we may finally have the event horizon of the sports universe: a big event wanted by exactly nobody. And we still have the next step: the part where you hear, “But we’re gonna do it anyway.”

Now if that isn’t a movie for our times, then we have sadly overestimated the entertainment business. So, sure. Cue the VO guy with the baritone: “In a world stuck inside the house … where not being seen is an act of kindness … 30 lonely billionaires and a few network executives try to make a few bucks on an exhibition of halfhearted athletic skill … ‘INSIDE THE BELTWAY OF DEATH.’ Starring Casper Van Dien, Vivica A. Fox, and Kevin Sorbo, with Charles Dance as the owners’ meetings … and a vast network of dark and empty streets, all called Peachtree. From the people who brought you the series ‘Spurs, PPD.'”