By TIM REYNOLDS
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have completed details for the March 7 All-Star Game in Atlanta, saying Thursday it will generate more than $2.5 million for historically Black colleges and COVID-19 relief efforts.
The game has been criticized by some of the league’s top players, who voiced concerns about having it during a pandemic. It also drew concern from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who made clear that fans shouldn’t come to the city for All-Star festivities since there won’t be public events surrounding the game.
But the charitable elements were a major factor in the league pressing on, and Commissioner Adam Silver said the game gives the league a platform to shine light on HBCUs and the ongoing need for resources in the fight against COVID-19.
“NBA All-Star in Atlanta will continue our annual tradition of celebrating the game and the greatest players in the world before a global audience,” Silver said.
The game is bringing back the format that was used last year: a target score to end the game, something that will again pay tribute to Kobe Bryant. Each of the first three quarters will start with a 0-0 score, then will be re-tallied for an untimed fourth quarter. The leading score through three quarters will have 24 points — a nod to Bryant’s jersey number — added, and the first team to hit that target wins the game.
Teams again will be selected by playing captains. LeBron James has been a captain in all three previous instances of that format; the Los Angeles Lakers star is the front-runner to be one again, as was Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets based on the most recent fan-voting results.
The captains for the game — which will be the leading fan vote-getters — will be announced Thursday evening, as will the other eight starters.
Reserves will be announced next week.
The game will partner with organizations such as the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and United Negro College Fund to “highlight the importance of HBCUs and raise awareness around the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color,” the league said. HBCU musical groups are also being invited to perform virtually.
“HBCUs provided premium education to our communities at a time when access to higher learning was denied us,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said. “They were there — and have remained there — for us. We now stand with them.”
The league told teams this week that it would arrange private travel to Atlanta for all participants, who will continue being tested for the coronavirus — players have been tested daily throughout the season. They will be unable to leave their hotels except for All-Star events, a mini-bubble concept that the NBA and the NBPA agreed upon in recent days.
James, two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and others have been less than enthusiastic about the game being played, noting both the concerns related to the pandemic and how it’s being squeezed into an already compressed season.
“We know it’s happening and we know we’re required and expected to be there,” Golden State guard Stephen Curry said. “It kind of is what it is.”
Players and their guests will have to arrive in Atlanta by 7 p.m. on March 6 and will leave the night after the All-Star Game; the 3-point shootout, skills competition and dunk contest are also planned for March 7.