The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are progressing toward an agreement for an All-Star Game on March 7 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, a single-night event that encompasses a game between the Eastern and Western Conferences and skills competitions, sources told ESPN.
While a formal agreement has yet to be finalized, the NBA and NBPA have been working through the details of a scaled-down event that centers on transporting players in and out of Atlanta in a significantly shorter window of time than what would be required on a typical All-Star weekend, sources said. Safety protocols are among the details still being ironed out.
The NBA and union are increasingly confident that enough of the league’s top players are willing to participate during a tight midseason break in this condensed pandemic schedule, sources said. Outside of the conference and NBA Finals, the All-Star Game is traditionally at the top of fan engagement for the league — another motivating factor to salvage the event this season.
The raw financial impact of playing the game is immediately unclear. Because the league reduced the regular season by 10 games and doesn’t have a separate All-Star Game television deal, the league also could have generated more revenue by filling the weekend with more regular-season games. The NBA and NBPA share roughly a 50-50 split in basketball-related income.
The NBA has made the All-Star event mandatory for players in the past, but opt-out clauses have been included in much of the pandemic, including the Orlando restart and the 2020-2021 regular season. That’s believed to be part of the discussions around the All-Star Game as well, sources said.
The NBA has a midseason break set for March 5-10. The league is pursuing a truncated 72-game regular-season schedule, which includes a second-half schedule that has yet to be announced. NBPA president Chris Paul has been an advocate of the Atlanta All-Star Game idea, including a plan to use the game to benefit historically black colleges and universities and COVID-19 relief, sources said. Nevertheless, this is an idea that has been met with resistance and skepticism among both players and team executives. Even with protocol safeguards around the game, many see it as an unnecessary risk for the league, players and support personnel. The travel and safety protocols are expected to be similar to a regular-season NBA game — flying in the night before on a private plane and flying out after the game.
Atlanta is the home of Turner Sports, which can televise the game without having to send its crew outside of the city. Even a game without fans — or with sparse, socially distanced attendance — would still require significant travel for players, support staff and league officials in the teeth of the pandemic. The typical hosting of corporate sponsors, a significant financial component of normal All-Star weekends, wouldn’t be possible amid the pandemic.
The NBA had originally postponed a February All-Star Weekend set for Indianapolis. Indiana has since been rewarded with the 2024 All-Star Game.