By Sravan Gannavarapu
Boston University News Service
The annual NBA All-Star Game is a chance for the league’s biggest stars to showcase their talents, and for fans to unite as they watch the best athletes in the league compete against each other.
However, this year, there were concerns over how the game would be played due to COVID-19 concerns. Despite stars like Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard speaking out against playing the game, the league proceeded with its plans.
Concerns only intensified when, hours before the game Sunday night, Philadelphia 76ers stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid learned they would miss the game after coming in contact with a barber who reportedly tested positive for COVID-19; a blow to Team Kevin Durant as they prepared to take on Team Lebron.
Previously, Durant’s lineup had both Embiid and Durant as starters. Instead, New Orleans’s Zion Williamson and Boston’s Jayson Tatum were called in, after Durant himself sat out the match, dealing with a hamstring injury that left him off the court.
Boston’s other All-Star, Jaylen Brown, played a reserve role for Team James, the team Simmons was also a member of.
Team Durant also lost reserve Devin Booker to a sprained ankle. Booker was a substitute for Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis, who was also sidelined by an injury. The move opened the door for longtime veteran and Utah Jazz star Mike Conley to make his first-ever All-Star appearance.
Though Team Lebron came away with a 170-150 win, with Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo taking home the game’s Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player award, the reality is the game shouldn’t have been played.
If two of the game’s biggest stars spoke out in favor of not having the game played, the league should have taken notice — especially when health is the primary concern.
Instead of asking players to travel to Atlanta and risk a potential outbreak by hosting an actual event, they could have followed the NFL model.
The NFL was supposed to have their annual Pro-Bowl in January, but their plans shifted due to the pandemic. Instead, they made the event virtual, playing it out through the video game, Madden NFL 2021.
The only consolation is that, like the NFL, one could argue the NBA All-Star game is more of a popularity contest than a testament to player skill. For instance, Booker was not on the initial roster despite being the Suns’ leading scorer at 24.9 points per game this season. Fellow Phoenix Suns teammate Chris Paul got the first crack instead, earning only 6 points.
Furthermore, Utah Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the last players were taken in the All-Star draft, recorded 15 and 10 points for their teams respectively.
Regardless of who made the teams, what jersey they wore, or how the game played out, this wasn’t the year to play. The NBA didn’t listen. And instead, they prioritized revenue over health.