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Clippings: The case for the NBA All-Star Game

The midseason exhibition feels like a foregone conclusion.

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2020 NBA All-Star - Taco Bell Skills Challenge Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

When the news leaked last week that the NBA was finalizing plans to hold its annual All-Star Game on March 7, the reaction from the league’s stars was wholly negative. Kawhi Leonard was among many superstars who pilloried the decision given the health and safety protocols players and teams currently have to abide by, and considering the NBA had previously stated the All-Star Game would not be taking place.

However, despite protestations from several of the league’s best and brightest, the annual exhibition appears to be taking place. So let’s try to understand the case for why the NBA is overriding the wishes of its stars.

Chris Paul, president of the NBPA, said that the league is proceeding with “the full body of players in mind.” As Marc Stein noted in his weekly newsletter, that means the 420-plus non-All-Stars are counting on the All-Stars to come through and deliver the revenue that comes from this weekend. Just how much money that is remains unclear, though Sam Amick reported in The Athletic that Turner makes $30 million in ad revenue from All-Star. Presumably, the NBA adds more to its war chest than that.

In addition to assuring its revenue, the league is looking out for its broadcast partners. The network contract with Turner doesn’t appear to mandate an All-Star game, but it certainly behooves them to hold one, and the NBA is taking care of Turner, much like it gave an assist to ESPN by hosting the bubble at a Disney property.

The league also believes that keeping its players within the NBA’s orbit makes them less susceptible to contracting Covid-19 than if they were out on their own. The positive test rates are always highest when players return from a break, and they come down when players are within the league’s protocols. Presumably, the All-Star area will be the safest place players can be, even if it is in Atlanta. Here’s your reminder that the 2020 bubble was in Orlando, which was a coronavirus hotspot at the time.

There’s also another argument that All-Star Weekend markets stars in a way that regular-season games simply cannot. The viewership for last year’s All-Star Game was more than five times the viewership on Christmas or Martin Luther King Day. To me, that suggests that the league isn’t marketing its players well enough year-round, but that’s a story for another time.

Even as the players have spoken out against All-Star, no one has said they won’t attend. And Damian Lillard just delivered the most measured response yet of any perennial All-Star regarding the game.

There’s no reason not to expect All-Star to take place next month. But maybe the NBA can extend the midseason break a bit longer so that everyone in the league gets some time to decompress during what has been a challenging year.

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