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NBA All-Star set for Atlanta, despite criticism

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has confirmed that its 2021 All-Star event will take place on March 7 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, with commissioner Adam Silver maintaining it is the “right thing to do” despite criticism over its staging.

The home of the Atlanta Hawks will stage a pared back version of the event during COVID-19, with the game taking place on one night for the first time. As part of this year’s events, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) will commit more than $2.5m (£1.79m/€2.06m) in funds and resources toward Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and support and awareness around equity and access to COVID-19 care, relief and vaccines.

For All-Star 2021, the NBA and NBPA have established additional measures to supplement the league’s current Health and Safety Protocols.  These include private travel to and from Atlanta, the creation of a ‘mini bubble’ environment within a single hotel for players and coaches, and enhanced PCR testing.

Additionally, for the well-being and safety of the greater Atlanta community, there will be no fan activities, ticketed events or hospitality functions as part of All-Star.

The staging of All-Star during the pandemic has drawn criticism from some of the league’s leading players, including the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, who was yesterday (Thursday) voted in as captain of the Western Conference team. Atlanta’s Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, has also voiced her concerns, making it clear fans shouldn’t travel to the city for the event.

Silver told ESPN: “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. 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 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.”

All-Star attendance will be limited to around a thousand people from local HBCUs and players’ guests, with Silver making it clear he agreed with the mayor on the subject of fans seeking to attend. He added: “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.”

Image: Warren LeMay/CC0 1.0/Edited for size