In agreeing to host this year’s tamped-down NBA All-Star game amid the COVID-19 pandemic, principal owner Tony Ressler and the Hawks had one condition.
“They said, ‘Frankly, as long as this doesn’t count as our turn to have a full-fledged All-Star, we’d be happy to partner with the league,’” NBA commissioner Adam Silver remembered.
Silver quickly agreed, as the All-Star game March 7 at State Farm Arena certainly won’t look like your typical three-day weekend festivities, which are packed with community and fan events that attract tourists, publicity and ample business to the host city (last year in Chicago, former President Barack Obama helped All-Star players, including Hawks guard Trae Young, pack backpacks for low-income Chicago Public School students during the NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service). The game, skills contests and dunk contest have been compressed into a one-night affair.
In this case, there are zero plans outside the official All-Star events that will be held that Sunday night, which will not be a ticketed event open to the public and the league is actively discouraging any sort of in-person congregating (the NBA still estimates it will have a significant economic impact on the city — more on that later). Roughly 1,300 people will be in attendance, consisting of students and staff from HBCUs — historically Black colleges and universities — which the league will feature throughout the night, local healthcare heroes and family and close friends of All-Star players.
Playing a physical All-Star game amid a pandemic has generated controversy, with the context that 30 NBA games, as of mid-February, have been postponed this season because of players testing positive for COVID-19 or contact tracing.
But, the league and the Players Association came to an agreement, and the location of State Farm Arena made it the go-to host candidate. Turner Broadcasting is close and its employees wouldn’t have to travel, the Hawks renovated the arena not long ago and Atlanta has several HBCUs in the area that the league plans to highlight, with Clark Atlanta University Philharmonic Society Choir performing an original rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and step teams from Spelman and Morehouse performing that night.
The Hawks will be “aggressive bidders” to host the All-Star game again in the coming years, eager to do it big and do it right after having such limitations on them this time. Although the next handful have been decided, per Silver, hosting this year will only help their cause in the future.
“There’s a process, of course, for awarding All-Stars, and we’ve already awarded the next few years, assuming things return to normal and we’re back to doing the traditional All-Star weekend, but there’s no doubt that there’s a bonus in their column for holding All-Star this year,” Silver said.
“And I commit, in no way could it possibly hurt them, it could only help them, and I think we all recognize that these are all such highly unusual circumstances and to be holding an All-Star during a pandemic.”
But first, more on the decision to hold an All-Star game this year in the first place.