“It’s a global event for us, and we’re making our best efforts to embrace all aspects of our league to the extent we can through this pandemic and this is just one more opportunity,” said Silver, appearing on the show’s fifth anniversary special Thursday. “I’ll add that of course I’m listening to those who don’t think it’s a good idea, and I think that’s been the cases in terms of essentially everything we’ve done since we shut down [nearly] a year ago because of the pandemic.
“There were obviously those who thought we shouldn’t play without fans, thought we shouldn’t play in the bubble, thought we shouldn’t be playing in a very serious way because of the social justice issues roiling this country. So I certainly hear the other side of this issue here. And I’ll lastly say it seems like no decisions during this pandemic come without uncertainty and come without risk. This is yet another one of them, and yet it’s my job to balance all those interests and ultimately it feels like the right thing to do to go forward.”
The NBA, along with the National Basketball Players Association, will give more than $2.5 million to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as part of holding the event, as well as to support awareness around equity and access to COVID-19 care, relief and vaccines. Silver credited NBPA president Chris Paul with the idea for doing those things as part of holding the All-Star Game this year.
“HBCUs provided premium education to our communities at a time when access to higher learning was denied to us,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said in a statement announcing the league’s decision to have the game. “They were there — and have remained there — for us. We now stand with them.”
Due to COVID-19, what typically is an entire weekend’s worth of festivities will be compressed into a single night. Rather than holding the skills challenge, 3-point contest and slam dunk contest on Saturday night, as it typically does, the NBA will instead have the skills challenge and 3-point contest take place before the game starts at 8 p.m. and will hold the slam dunk contest at halftime.
There also will be no fans in attendance, outside of about a thousand from local HBCUs and players’ guests. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has already asked fans not to congregate for the All-Star Game, or to visit the city, and Silver echoed that sentiment, saying there will be nothing for fans to do in Atlanta the weekend of the game.
“I don’t think it will be that difficult,” Silver said, of holding an All-Star Weekend without fans. “Our event will not be open to the public … there will be roughly 1,000 people representing those institutions but there will not be tickets open to the public, and I actually agree with the mayor.
“We don’t want people to gather for events around this All-Star. There will be absolutely no social functions in Atlanta. No ticketed events. No parties. It is a made-for-television event at this point, and it’s largely in Atlanta because that’s where Turner Sports is located who will host this event … that’s why we are there, so we agree with the mayor.”
As far as the on-court portion of the festivities goes, the “Elam Ending” will officially return after a successful debut last year in Chicago. As happened last year, each quarter will start at 0-0, with both teams competing to win each one for designated charities. The fourth quarter will then be played until either team reaches the point total of the leading team after three quarters plus 24 points — in honor of the late Kobe Bryant.
In addition, as ESPN reported Wednesday, captains — determined by the highest vote-getters in each conference — will again be choosing their respective teams from the pool of 22 remaining All-Stars.
Each participating player will be allowed to bring up to four family members, “longtime close personal friends” or their agent. They’ll also be allowed to bring one “health-focused staff member,” who may work for their team, to help them prepare to play in Sunday’s events.
In attempts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the NBA will require players to self-quarantine at home “with limited exceptions” from Feb. 27 until they leave for Atlanta on March 6. They will be required to stay at the All-Star hotel while in Atlanta outside of when they are participating in All-Star events at the arena, part of what the NBA is deeming a “mini-bubble” in Atlanta.
Players and their guests will receive private transportation to and from the game in addition to regular PCR testing. Player guests will also undergo regular PCR testing up to and including their time in Atlanta and will be allowed to attend the game itself.
Silver said the mental health toll on the league’s players, coaches and staff throughout last season’s bubble and this season’s “work quarantine” is not lost on him.
“There’s constant sacrifices throughout,” Silver said. “But at the same time we — the league office and the league office working directly with the players — are always trying to balance these health and safety issues against economic issues and call them ‘lifestyle’ issues, and part of the lifestyle issues is the isolation that comes, of course, from the worst-case scenario of being in the bubble, but there’s even a fair amount of isolation for this so-called work quarantine protocol.
“A lot of our young players don’t have families. They’re living alone. Some players who are playing in cities where their families don’t live made decisions not to relocate their families because it was best for everyone for whatever reason. So there’s a fair amount of isolation, and it’s not lost on me. You look at the national statistics among young people in terms of how people have been impacted by the pandemic, it seems the mental health issues are worse among the young cohort, 18-to-24-year-olds or so, and young people in their 20s, which of course comprises a large portion of our league. So all of these are issues we’re trying to factor in.”
The NBA announced the All-Star starters, along with both captains, on Thursday night. The league’s coaches will now vote on the seven reserve spots in each conference, which will be announced Tuesday.
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has already clinched coaching one of the teams in the All-Star Game. 76ers coach Doc Rivers will clinch coaching the other team if either the Sixers win one of their next two games or if the Nets lose on Sunday to the Clippers. If none of that happens, Brooklyn’s Steve Nash will be the coach.
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