The Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association and one of James’s longtime friends, has been described as one of the strongest backers of an All-Star weekend boiled down to one day in Atlanta — with both the league and union determined to ensure that the game benefits historically Black colleges and universities and Covid-19 relief efforts.
It was not immediately clear whether fans would be admitted — Atlanta is one of 10 teams currently allowing reduced crowds at its home games — or if players selected as All-Stars will have any means to opt out if they would rather not participate. In normal circumstances, All-Star Game participation is mandatory for those selected. James said that, despite his reservations, he would “be there physically but not mentally.”
In the first batch of All-Star balloting returns, which were also announced Thursday, James had the league’s second-highest vote total (2,288,676), behind only the Nets’ Kevin Durant (2,302,705).
“I will say this: If they do have that All-Star Game, whether you agree with it or not, the league is going to make sure it’s done in a very responsible and safe manner, and that’s been proven time and time again,” Nuggets Coach Mike Malone said before Denver’s loss to the Lakers.
After tightening its safety protocols significantly in January and instituting an increased vigilance in enforcing mask-wearing, leaguewide Covid-19 testing has trended in a positive direction for the past two weeks. Only one confirmed positive test was announced by the N.B.A. in that span after 27 positives over the previous two weeks.
Yet the league has been forced to postpone 23 games already in the first half of the schedule because of various positive tests and contract-tracing procedures that left teams in those games without the minimum requirement of eight players in uniform. The N.B.A. began the season by releasing only half of its schedule for the first time in league history, knowing it would likely have to reschedule several postponed games in the second half after the March 5-10 break.
If the league’s original plans hold, teams will complete their 72-game regular seasons in May, followed by four rounds of playoffs expected to go well into July but finish before the scheduled start of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23. Among the N.B.A.’s goals when it moved the start of this season up to Dec. 22 was to try to get the 2021-22 season back on its more familiar October-to-June timeline.