By TIM REYNOLDS
The NBA told its teams on Thursday night that it expects to finalize plans in the coming week to have an All-Star Game in Atlanta.
The game and skills competitions will be held on March 7, the NBA told clubs in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. It remains unclear when players would have to report to Atlanta and how testing will work there, or if fans will be part of the game.
The first-half schedule ends March 4, with the second half set to begin on March 11. The league said it expects to agree to terms with the National Basketball Players Association on testing protocols that will apply to all players during the break, how testing will work for the All-Star event, and when players will have to report back to their home markets to begin preparations for the second-half schedule.
ESPN first reported on the contents of the memo.
Daily testing, the NBA said, will continue during the break and the league expects that another condition will be that players won’t be allowed to travel internationally. If a player leaves his home market during the midseason break, the NBA is expected to mandate that he stay in private accommodations.
All players will likely have to be back in home markets within two days of their teams resuming play, the NBA said.
Talks between the league and the NBPA have gone on for weeks about if and how to salvage the All-Star Game, which was originally scheduled to be played in Indianapolis this season — before the pandemic called off those plans. Among the ideas the league and the union are discussing: how the game can benefit both COVID-19 relief and historically Black colleges and universities.
Sacramento guard De’Aaron Fox said Wednesday night he thought the notion of an All-Star Game was “stupid” during a pandemic. Players have been told to wear masks on their benches, coaches must wear them at all times during games and the league and NBPA have installed strict protocols to try to get through the season safely.
“If I’m going to be brutally honest, I think it’s stupid,” Fox said. “If we have to wear masks and do all this for a regular game, then what’s the point of bringing an All-Star Game back? But obviously, money makes the world go ’round, so it is what it is.”
Fox was not among the top vote-getters in the first fan-balloting results released Thursday. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant is the leading overall fan vote-getter so far with just over 2.3 million, the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James has just under 2.3 million, and Golden State’s Stephen Curry has just over 2.1 million.
“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” James said. “I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game, but it’s the agreement.”
The Lakers had a 71-day offseason, and James had been looking forward to a five-day break to recharge himself. Instead, he’s likely headed to Atlanta, a development he called: “Pretty much kind of a slap in the face.”
“We’re also still dealing with a pandemic, dealing with everything that’s been going on, and we’re going to bring the whole league into a city that’s still open,” James added after posting his 96th career triple-double in the Lakers’ 114-93 win over Denver. “Obviously, you guys can see I’m not very happy about it, but it’s out of my hands, and I’ll be there physically if I’m selected. I’ll be there physically, but not mentally.”
It would be Atlanta’s third time playing host to the game, the others coming in 1978 and 2003. Cleveland is the 2022 host, Salt Lake City will host in 2023 and Indianapolis will get the event in 2024.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.