There can be no doubting the National Basketball Association’s motivations when it comes to the All-Star Game. At heart, the annual spectacle is the league’s way of thanking fans for their support; its brightest stars take part in a series of exhibitions through an extended weekend. In turn, participation brings about tangible and manifest benefits; not counting the goodwill generated by leading lights, financial incentives come with attendance. For players, the most lucrative offshoots are generated by contractual triggers emanating from being one of 24 named to the featured match.
This year, however, is different — or, rather, was supposed to be different owing to the quick start of the season. Exactly 71 days separated the last game of the 2020 Finals and the first game of the 2020-21 campaign, half the time typically separating the two. Even so, the players association agreed to the compressed schedule in the understanding that it would transition to normalcy, but not yet. Part of the concessions included a week off midway through the calendar. As things have turned out, however, the All-Star break looks to be much of the same old, same old.
Evidently, the league and the union leadership have agreed to hold All-Star festivities early next month. Final details continue to be ironed out, but voting is already under way. Meanwhile, the very stalwarts on whose presence the event relies seem to be balking at the notion that they will be giving up their promised respite for more work. And, make no mistake, the proponents’ choice of venue, deemed crucial to maximizing returns, is likewise fueling resistance. State Farm Arena, which hosts the Hawks’ home outings, is one of only 10 in the NBA allowed under local health protocols to accept spectators — which may be good from a revenue standpoint, but nonetheless raises safety concerns.
Little wonder, then, that longtime marquee fixtures and probable All-Stars alike are lambasting the plan. From LeBron James to Giannis Antetokounmpo to Kawhi Leonard to De’Aaron Fox, the tenor of the opposition is the same; there is zero motivation to participate in it. Which is why the league’s top honchos need to act, and fast. Along with players association leaders that are dotting the Is and crossing the Ts of the agreement to hold the All-Star Game and establish rules for its smooth implementation, they would do well to explain its benefits to the general population.
Granted, the players know which side of the bread is buttered. When push comes to shove, they will be in the All-Star Game. But if their attendance is borne of contractual obligation and not of genuine interest, the product they are slated to showcase will be far from superior. Moreover, the absence of any downtime and the need to make up for all the postponed matches figure to affect even the contests that really count. And therein lies the rub. Going all in works only if victory is assured. Else, it’s a big risk requiring a big ask that carries an answer the league may ultimately regret.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.