Commissioner Adam Silver defended the NBA's commitment to staging an All-Star Game in Atlanta on March 7 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming the league is doing so for the enjoyment of its supporters.
"It's obviously a very fair question, and I'd say it begins with the fans - that All-Star is the No. 1 fan engagement event of the entire season for the league." Silver told TNT's Ernie Johnson on Thursday when asked why the event was necessary.
"It's been a 70-year tradition. Something like 100 million people will vote for All-Stars. The highlights coming out of All-Star Weekends historically have generated in the neighborhood of a billion views. Something like 130 million people will watch the All-Star Game on a global basis."
While fan engagement is ostensibly the league's priority, fans won't be able to take part in any in-person activities as they have in seasons past.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Tuesday urged people not to travel to the city for the spectacle, adding there won't be any NBA-sanctioned events to attend, according to a statement obtained by 11Alive News' Chenue Her. She also called on bars and clubs in Atlanta to abstain from hosting parties.
Several high-profile players have expressed their own disappointment over the decisions to proceed with an All-Star Game, including Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, who was voted one of two team captains Thursday alongside Kevin Durant. James said earlier in February he had "zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year" and called the idea a "slap in the face" to players who expected a break during the week of March 5-10.
But Silver said an All-Star Game allows the league and its players to continue with a sense of normalcy during a volatile time.
"For us, All-Star is a part of our league, no different than the games we play," he said. "And I just end by saying it begins and ends with the fans. As I said, this is an event our fans love to see. They love to see our players come together. But nothing comes without controversy during a pandemic."