NBA Criticized For Decision To Hold All-Star Gaming During Pandemic NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to Washington Post columnist Kevin Blackistone about the NBA's decision to host this year's All-Star Game in Atlanta — as the country continues to battle COVID-19.

NBA Criticized For Decision To Hold All-Star Gaming During Pandemic

NBA Criticized For Decision To Hold All-Star Gaming During Pandemic

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NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to Washington Post columnist Kevin Blackistone about the NBA's decision to host this year's All-Star Game in Atlanta — as the country continues to battle COVID-19.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The NBA's best players will gather in Atlanta on Sunday to play in the All-Star Game. The basketball showcase is usually a celebration of skill and talent, although some players are asking why they're playing this meaningless game in the middle of a pandemic. Washington Post sports columnist Kevin Blackistone argues that players have an easy solution if they don't want to play - don't play. And he's on the line once again. Good morning, sir.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Morning. How are you doing?

INSKEEP: OK. How much pushback is the league getting for playing this game at all?

BLACKISTONE: Well, they got quite a bit as the game was being solidified, as it was being whittled down to just one day, as opposed to a weekendlong extravaganza, which it has grown into. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, a lot of the star players and even some younger players came out on social media and said they didn't really want to play this game. They wanted the extra rest. The season started up again so quickly on December 22, and they didn't want to travel anymore during a pandemic. But the league, the front office, held forth, and we're going ahead with this game nonetheless.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm just thinking about, you know, the notion of essential travel or essential work. I'm even thinking about us as journalists. I mean, we go out, we talk to people face to face. We get on planes when we have to, but the idea of the pandemic is to never do it when you don't have to, minimize all the risk you possibly can. What makes the NBA think that this game, which is not part of the regular season standings, not anything guided toward the playoffs - what makes this an essential game?

BLACKISTONE: Well, they want to market their game continuously. And as one player said - you know, Kawhi Leonard, the star player for the LA Clippers - it's pretty much all about making more money. And so they have prioritized dollar bills over the health of players. Now, in defense of the NBA, Commissioner Adam Silver said, you know, it's all going to be in one day. We will fly in all the players on private planes. There will only be family members in attendance, along with some representatives of historically Black colleges and universities in the Atlanta area. But other than that, everything will be safe. But still, we know, as you just alluded to, the minute that you travel, it becomes problematic. And let's not forget, these are majority-Black players headed to the second-largest Black metro area in the country, a community that has been harder hit by this pandemic than any other. We're always at the top of the misery index.

INSKEEP: We're talking about Atlanta here. Of course, these are - you know, I mean, you talk about LeBron. We're talking about very rich and powerful players. But do they have many options other than going?

BLACKISTONE: Well, I mean, they can not go. I mean, we applauded them back in August when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play a basketball game to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake up in Wisconsin. And we applauded them for exercising their collective power. They could do the same thing here. And it would take even less people, in a sense, so they could do that.

INSKEEP: Kevin Blackistone, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

BLACKISTONE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: He is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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