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In the N.B.A., Money Speaks Louder Than Stars

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The league’s deals with Disney and TNT, worth $24 billion over nine years, do not expire until after the 2024-25 season, but it is never too soon in coronavirus times to re-establish oneself as an exemplary partner. The N.B.A., for all the criticism it has absorbed in recent days, is certainly on a winning streak there, from conceiving a bubble to safely usher the 2019-20 season to a conclusion … to engineering that bubble at Walt Disney World as opposed to Las Vegas or any other interested city … to this All-Star save.

I’m told Phoenix was proposed as a potential venue for March 7. Holding it in Atlanta instead will put the game in TNT’s backyard, eliminating travel for its coverage crews.

Yet it’s the opposite for the participants, and that’s the unsettling part — even after the N.B.A. announced just one confirmed positive test over the past three weeks in leaguewide coronavirus testing. The All-Stars face extra travel to a function steeped in fraternization between players at a time when teams, in their day-to-day existence, are strongly discouraged from postgame interactions of any kind. There’s seemingly no way to avoid describing this game — an exhibition — as risky.

The All-Star Game “has been an important tradition throughout the history of the league and remains one of our top events for global fan interest and engagement,” Mike Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman, said in a statement to The Times last week. “The health and safety of everyone involved is at the forefront of our discussions with the players’ association.”

The league and the union have been adamant that the game will feature a significant philanthropic component to benefit historically Black colleges and universities as well as Covid-19 relief efforts. The broadcast itself is certain to amplify a league campaign that urges fans to take the coronavirus vaccine as it becomes available and features Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Gregg Popovich in commercial spots.

Murmurs persist that some All-Stars will seek to opt out of playing what has been a mandatory assignment for those selected, according to the league’s bylaws, but all signs indicate the game will go ahead.

James surely knows it, too. Don’t forget that, dismayed as he was about a game that “I don’t even understand” and a trip that will take 24 All-Stars “into one city that’s open,” he also said he would be there if selected.

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