Kawhi Leonard (302010)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

The NBA is finalizing plans for their 70h All-Star Game, scheduled for March 7 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James are the teams’ captains for Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, as a result of being the leading fan vote getters.

The Philadelphia 76’ers Doc Rivers will coach the East and the Utah Jazz’s Quinn Snyder will perform those duties for the West squad. Coaches were selected from the team with the best record in each conference at the end of Sunday, Feb. 21.

Joining Durant in the East’s starting line-up will be his Nets teammate Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76’ers) and Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards). The West’s lineup is composed of Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers), Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) and Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors).

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the game and additional events will not be open to the public. There will be a select number of NBA personnel, health care workers and guests of players in attendance. All of the activities, usually scheduled over three days, have been condensed to one day. The skills challenge and 3-point contest will be held prior to the game. The dunk contest will take place at halftime.

Some of the league’s prominent players voiced their opposition the game being held. “I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game,” James said on Feb. 4 after the Lakers 114-93 win over the Denver Nuggets. James stated he has “zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year.”

Kawhi Leonard believes that this year’s All-Star Game is simply about economics. “We all know why we’re playing it,” he opined one day after James’ comments. “It’s money on the line. It’s an opportunity to make more money. Just putting money over health right now, pretty much.”

Leonard’s unfiltered observation was eye-opening considering his reserved public persona. “We’re playing games now,” he added, “and it’s still a pandemic, doing all these protocols and rules, so it doesn’t really surprise me.”

Leonard is correct. It is about dollars, millions of them. From a business standpoint it is the right decision by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to hold the game. There have been studies that assessed the league could lose an estimated 40% or more of their revenue this season, in part because of a reduction in the regular season schedule from the usual 82 games to 72 games.

The league’s network partners are also pushing for content. In 2014 the NBA signed a nine-year, $24 million extension with ESPN and TNT. Considering that television money is guaranteed NBA revenue, maintaining the All-Star Game on this season’s schedule may be a kinder, indirect way of Silver and owners saying to its players just shut up and dribble.